Ambitious plans by tourism association

A major 10-month project has been launched to create a regional strategy that will spark significant growth of the Thompson-Okanagan’s billion-dollar tourism industry.

Led by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), the project will assess existing and new market research, convene area workshops and consult tourism and community leaders throughout the region, including those in the North Thompson.

A draft 10-year tourism strategy and action plan will be presented to the third annual Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Summit in November and the final plan, along with practical toolkits for local tourism development, will be unveiled in February 2012.

“Tourism is a key economic engine in the Thompson-Okanagan and it is becoming more important every year,” said TOTA chief executive officer Glenn Mandziuk.

“In 2010, the region’s hotels brought in $260 million.  Combine that with the annual revenues from our golf, wine, skiing, culinary, outdoor-adventure and special-events sectors, and we can see how critical tourism is to communities in every part of our region.”

Mandziuk said more than 60,000 people are employed in core tourism jobs in the Thompson-Okanagan, not to mention many thousands more whose jobs are indirectly related to tourism.

Over the past two years TOTA has reorganized itself as a destination management organization, increasing its research, planning and marketing functions and taking an aggressive approach to developing the tourism industry, in partnership with communities and businesses.

In its new role, TOTA has recognized the need for a strategic plan for the regional level and for each of its 10 sub-regions.

The Thompson-Okanagan stretches from Valemount in the north to Osoyoos in the south and from Princeton and Cache Creek in the west to Sicamous and Grand Forks in the east.

“With this project, we are in a position to lead the way in tourism planning,” Mandziuk said.

TOTA will work closely with international tourism expert Roger  Carter, Thompson Rivers University,  and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.

It will review existing research and conduct additional market research.

Five sub-region workshops have been or will be held over the next few weeks: North Thompson (May 25 in Clearwater); South Okanagan, Boundary Country and Similkameen (May 31 in Osoyoos); Central Okanagan (June 7 in Kelowna); Shuswap and North Okanagan (June 9 in Salmon Arm); and Kamloops, Gold Country and Nicola Valley (June 15 in Quilchena).

The research and workshops will help TOTA identify a number of key things, including visitor expectations and satisfaction; factors that will help or hinder tourism growth; which destinations the region is competing with; which market segments would provide the most benefit to the region; and what products, services and infrastructure are needed to grow tourism in a sustainable manner.

A strategic priorities discussion paper will be issued in August and a regional workshop will be held in September prior to presentation of a draft regional tourism strategy at the November tourism summit.

That will be followed by a consultation period and unveiling of the final regional tourism strategy and action plan, along with local tourism action plan toolkits by February 2012.

Although additional government members will be named in the coming weeks, Steering Committee members already appointed include:

•  Ingrid Jarrett —  TOTA chair/general manager, Watermark Beach Resort.

•  Chris Bower — TOTA vice-chair/director of operations, Nk’mip Resort Association.

•  Robert Fine —  director, economic development, Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission.

•  Jessie Campbell — tourism marketing manager, Penticton and Wine Country Tourism.

•  Lorne Richardson — manager, Barriere Chamber of Commerce.

•  Harold Richins – dean, School of Tourism, Thompson Rivers University.

•  Gordon Fitzpatrick – B.C. Minister’s Council Tourism/president, CedarCreek Estate Winery,

•  Darcy Alexander – B.C. Minister’s Council on Tourism/vice-president, GM, Sun Peaks Resort

•  Peter Harrison – director of partnership marketing, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation

•  Sharon Bond – director, Aboriginal Tourism B.C./owner, Kekuli Aboriginal Foods.