Cycling is a primary focus for Tourism Vernon. (NOCS photo)

Cycling as an Okanagan community in focus for Vernon Tourism

“Now, Tourism Vernon is, not only looking at our partners, but with our neighbouring cities to get people to make a multi-destination visit around the Okanagan.”

Despite several air and smoke advisories issued throughout the year, many are still flocking to the Okanagan to visit, travel and experience all activities that the valley has to offer.

Vernon is no exception.

Tourism Vernon manager Angeline Chew said the department has worked hard over the past year to create more year-round activities and opportunities to offer to Vernonites and visitors alike. One of the main focus for 2018 was on biking paths.

With a goal of joining communities around the valley to one another via paths, Tourism Vernon began a partnership with the B.C. Mountain biking Association to launch a Mountain Biking corridor from Penticton to Vernon called the Sagebrush Singletrack trail.

“It’s a lot like the Sea to Sky corridor but we actually have one for the Okanagan now and we’re working with our sector partner and that’s a new accomplishment for us. We also participated with the B.C. Ale trail so we formed an ale trail with the Shuswap, Kamloops and ourselves and it’s called the Triang-ale Trail,” said Chew. “We’re now part of the B.C. Ale Trail program.”

Another accomplishment Chew noted was the continuation of the golf consortium.

“We formed a golf consortium with the B.C. golf alliance so Vernon is now being marketed as a stand-alone destination so that’s another pretty big accomplishment.”

Despite the focus on outdoor activities and sports, Chew said that the smoke did affect the number of tourists visiting the area — specifically in the fall.

“Overall, we ended up being quite flat for July and August, which is actually better than our valley partners because we had smoke, but we didn’t have fires,” she said. “Having been the second year that wildfires caused smoke in the area, she said so we really saw it in our fall bookings because it was down and our weather was not nice. Unfortunately travel, especially fall travel, it’s very much weather dependent so we really hope it’s a clear summer this year.”

Related: Tourism is economic force in British Columbia with 6.1 million visits: ministry

Related: Reporter takes a first-time crack at bike trails

Another big change for the tourism department was an increase in hotel tax. In 2018, it saw an increase from two per cent to three per cent — a 40 per cent increase in funding dollars from the year before.

“Since 2010 and the introduction of the hotel tax or the RDT — the regional district tax — we’ve had records years,” said Chew, noting several changes in the hotel industry around town.

In 2018, the city’s tourism department garnered $37,200,725 in Municipal Regional District Tax revenue — an increase of 0.8 per cent in comparison to 2017. According to the Tourism Department, both gross and net (minus administration fees and Tourism Event Program), contributions for the year reached over $1 million in revenues for the first time.

So, what’s to come in 2019?

From artisanal foods to stunning lakes to biking and trails to the year-round farmers market to various sporting activities offered around SilverStar, it’s clear that Vernon has become a travel destination — and rightfully so. The tourism department is hoping to continue to showcase that more this year.

“For 2019, we have seven Destination B.C. sector and regional projects in the works and all these projects are through Destination B.C. who nearly matches our funds and then our partners all contribute also so for us,” said Chew. “We only put in $74,000 ourselves but we’re leveraging our funding into almost $500,000 worth of campaigns because these projects involve multiple partners.”

She said that this is the second year that they have participated.

“Now, Tourism Vernon is, not only looking at our partners, but with our neighbouring cities to get people to make a multi-destination visit around the Okanagan.”

This is also why biking will continue to be a large focus in 2019. May 2-5 will mark the third annual Vernon bike festival. Chew said that the focus will be on bridging the cycling event, not only to showcase other sporting events in the area, but also to the culture that Vernon offers.

“So whether it will have music or will feature artists work along the trail, we’re really trying to show the diversity and merging sports with culture and really show the depth that Vernon has to offer,” she said.

Noting the city’s recent focus on bike access and transportation by creating a path from downtown to Kalamalka Lake, Chew said Vernon is becoming more user-friendly for bikers, allowing access from hotels right to existing and new paths.

“It fits into our city philosophy, which is ‘Activate Life’. For tourism, we think of wellness and being active and now we’re a four-season destination that allows for people to enjoy and connect with nature,” said Chew. “You don’t have to be in a gym to work out here; you could go snowshoeing, flat biking, hiking in the winter so there are year-round activities that are offered in Vernon.”

Related: Study shows increase in mountain bike tourism in B.C.

Related: It’s almost time to wine tour again in Kelowna

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