Kids climb on the Kelowna Wibit adventure park during the summer. The owner of the water park said Okanagan tourism was affected by the smokey skies earlier this year. —Image: Carli Berry/Capital News

Central Okanagan tourism now a $1.25 billion industry

Figures released at Tourism Kelowna AGM show industry is the third largest employer in the region

Tourism in Kelowna and the Central Okanagan is now a $1.25 billion industry.

The Tourism Kelowna Society held its annual general meeting Tuesday with more than 100 tourism business and community leaders, staff, and volunteers in attendance.

Financial and operational highlights from the board and CEO included a clean audit report, update on Kelowna’s new visitor centre, overview of enhanced marketing, sales and visitor servicing activities, and review of key tourism performance indicators.

Of note was hotel occupancy, which rose nearly 2.2 per cent between September 2016 and August 2017.

“Tourism in Kelowna and surrounding communities continues to grow and is a strong driver of our local economy,” said Lisanne Ballantyne, Tourism Kelowna’s president and CEO.

“While this year’s challenging weather-related events had an impact on visitation over the summer months, overall our growth trend continues with strong visitation numbers and new businesses opening and expanding to offer memorable experiences to visitors,” she said.

Tourism is big business in Kelowna and the Central Okanagan, and recent economic impact data shows that the tourism industry contributes over $1.25 billion in total economic output. More than 1.9 million visitors spend approximately $337 million annually and the local tourism industry generates $142 million in tax revenues and is the third-largest employer in the region, representing 11,890 jobs.

Tourism Kelowna’s strategic plan sets a goal of attracting three million overnight visitors by 2021 and the local industry delivering a positive experience for visitors while promoting repeat visits and referrals.

“Tourism Kelowna markets our destination to attract visitors here, and then connects visitors to local businesses and experiences when they are here,” said Ballantyne. “We work to grow overnight visitation in Kelowna and neighbouring communities and increase the impact and profile of our local tourism industry.”

Tourism Kelowna Society’s 2017-18 board was also confirmed, and the society thanked departing directors Nathan Flavel, Rosemary Paterson, Donna Faigaux, and Daniel Bibby for their contributions.

The new board includes:

•Chairman: Thom Killingsworth, Inn-Trust Hospitality

•Vice-chairwoman: Tanya Stroinig, Prestige Hotels

•Past-chairman: Stan Martindale, Ramada Hotel & Conference Centre

•Treasurer: Heather Schroeter, Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas

•Secretary: Debbie Dupasquier, Distinctly Kelowna Tours

•Brent Lavery, Holiday Inn Express Kelowna Conference Centre

•Dan Matheson, Okanagan Golf Club

•David McFadden, Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm

•Debra Harding, UBC Conferences and Accommodation

•Gail Given, City of Kelowna

•Katie Balkwill, Big White Ski Resort

•Nataley Nagy, Kelowna Art Gallery

•Patricia Leslie, Sandhill Wines / Andrew Peller Ltd.

•Penny Gambell, District of Lake Country

•Sam Samaddar, Kelowna International Airport

•Sean Coward, Kelowna Hotel Motel Association

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