Okanagan College students win big with accessible tourism pitch

A junior team of four OC business students capture regional title at Winning Pitch competition

Emily Pilon, Celina Matte, Bryan Cresswell and Zackery Plaxton at The Winning Pitch competition. photo: contributed

A junior team of four Okanagan College School of Business students have captured the regional title at The Winning Pitch competition for their innovative concept to expand accessible tourism opportunities in the Thompson Okanagan.

The Winning Pitch is a post-secondary student case competition presented by go2HR, B.C.’s tourism human resources association. The competition was held at the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Summit in Osoyoos on Nov. 14 and tasked teams to develop an idea of a new tourism service that supports the development of accessible tourism opportunities in the province.

Second-year students Bryan Cresswell, Celina Matte, Emily Pilon and Zackery Plaxton made up the junior team entered by Okanagan College. They presented to a packed audience of local tourism stakeholders and judges on their winning idea, AccessFest – a seasonally inspired series of festivals for those with accessibility requirements.

“Tourism opportunities can be limited for people with accessibility requirements and a lot of regions in B.C. are actively working to improve on that,” said Pilon. “Our proposed festival focuses on highlighting regional aspects of B.C. specifically for those with accessibility requirements and the whole concept contributes to B.C.’s Accessibility Strategy to become a truly inclusive province by 2024.”

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The team’s pitch focused on four seasonal festivals in four different locations across B.C. Opportunities to spotlight everything from fully accessible restaurants and hotels to ski resorts and wineries were part of the pitch. Each festival would also feature the various areas’ unique aspects of culture and tourism to develop unique visitor experiences that are more accessible and inclusive.

The junior team was joined on the podium by fellow students from Okanagan College.

OC’s senior team, consisting of Brittany Hemmerling, Nathan Ziebart, Jacob Pushor and Brett Loeppky, came in second after a close vote. Thompson Rivers University teams placed in third and fourth. Both College teams were coached by Okanagan School of Business Professors Blair Baldwin and Alan Rice.

“Both the junior and senior teams’ pitches were well received by the judges and Alan and I are very proud of their hard work and ambition,” said Baldwin. “This is the first time the students from the junior team have worked together and they found an immediate team chemistry. Each student comes from different specialty areas – marketing, finance and accounting – and they each brought something unique to the team.”

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The competition required students to build a full business plan and seek feedback from real community stakeholders.

“After speaking with a few tourism stakeholders across the region, we found that what was really missing was a key driver that could influence the industry and create demand,” said Cresswell. “We started to think about an event that could be held regionally and could be scalable to a provincial level and that’s what sparked on the idea of AccessFest. After we developed the idea, we brought it back to those stakeholders and we were blown away with their support and desire to turn this idea into a reality.”

The team will now go on to represent the Thompson Okanagan region at the provincial finals, facing off against four other regional winners from across the province – but not before one last twist. All regional winners will be handed an extra challenge in January that teams will need to account for and build into their presentations at the provincial championship.

“The twist could be so many things so it’s hard to try to predict our challenge,” said Pilon. “We’ve done our work and we’re actively preparing for provincials. Once we hear what the twist is, we’re going to further develop our concept and start building it into our plan.”

The provincial challenge takes place in February at the 2019 BC Tourism Industry Conference in Vancouver and teams will present to a panel of judges and an audience of more than 1,000 conference attendees.

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