Tourism Kelowna CEO Liseanne Ballantyne sabres a bottle of sparking wine during the opening of the new Kelowna visitor centre in June. The centre saw 108,000 visitors in its first six months of operation. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Popularity of new Kelowna visitor centre exceeds expectations

Tourism Kelowna says 108,000 people have used the visitor centre in first six months

Despite controversy over the placement of Kelowna’s new visitor centre on the downtown lakeshore, Tourism Kelowna says the number of people who used the centre during its first six months of operation appears to support the location.

Tourism Kelowna, which held its annual general meeting Tuesday, said 108,000 people have passed through the doors of the visitor centre at the foot of Queensway since it opened in June, more double the expected number.

When it opened, Tourism Kelowna said it expected 100,000 visitors during the first year of operation, substantially more than its former location on Highway 97 saw.

The $2.8 million visitor centre replaced the former centre, which was located in the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce building.

RELATED: New Kelowna visitor centre opens

Opponents of the new building questioned its location and a lack of a dedicated parking for the centre. They also opposed the city providing land they felt should be used as waterfront parkland.

The land, a former parking lot and the original landing spot for the ferry that used to bring people and vehicles across Okanagan Lake from the Westside before construction of the former Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge, was designated parkland, but was never used as a park.

Proponents argued it was the right location because it would serve more people as visitors and locals alike spent time, downtown and on the city’s popular lakeshore promenade. They also said today’s travellers tend to already have their accommodation arranged when they arrive and need information one they are here. They also do more planning using mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets.

At Tuesday’s AGM, Tourism Kelowna board chairman Thom Killingsworth said the building, paid for by tourism promotion organization, was completed on time and on budget.

“We are proud of our accomplishments and appreciative to have an amazing operational team and an engaged volunteer board made up of hard-working individuals, each representing different elements of our industry but all coming together for the best interests of the destination,” said Killingsworth.

“This year proved yet again that we have the right team in place, working on the right priorities, at the right time.”

Lisanne Ballantyne, Tourism Kelowna president and CEO said the past 12 months were pivotal for the tourism industry in Kelowna and neighbouring communities.

She said while there was a strong start to the year with hotel occupancy levels at all-time highs, weather-related challenges brought overnight visitation down in the summer season.

Kelowna’ skies were shrouded in smoke from forest fires in other parts of the province for most of the summer and the poor air quality lead to the cancellation of some high-profile outdoor events including the Apple Triathlon and the annual dragon boat races.

But Ballantyne said occupancy levels rebounded and by the end of the year, they were slightly higher than last year.

“We have a strong, resilient tourism industry but going forward, diversifying our tourism offerings will be key in our evolution to becoming a four-season outdoor destination,” said Ballantyne

“We have new market opportunities in 2019 that will solidify that path and set us well on the way to our goal of 3.5 million annual visitors by 2022.”

Reports from the Tourism Kelowna board of directors and Ballantyne highlighted the success of a new, major events program, the launch of a multi-year winter strategy, campaigns targeting new markets like LGBTQ travel, culinary tourism and Indigenous offerings for what Kelowna Tourism describes as “authentic” culture seekers.

The organization’s work in positioning Kelowna as a certified sustainable tourism destination was also highlighted, along with its recognition with international certification through the Destination Marketing accreditation program, demonstrating adherence to stringent industry standards.

Tourism Kelowna Society’s 2019 Board was also confirmed.

The list of directors and executive committee members include:

• Katie Balkwill – Big White Ski Resort

• Kristi Caldwell – Caldwell Heritage Farms / Wiseacre Farm Distillery

• Carla Carlson – Comfort Suites Kelowna

• Joseph Clohessy – Delta Grand Okanagan Resort

• Dana Crichton – Four Points by Sheraton Kelowna Airport

• Debbie Dupasquier – Bluestar Charters

• Penny Gambell – Lake Country City Council

• Gail Given – Kelowna City Council • Thom Killingsworth – Kelowna Yacht Club

• Patricia Leslie – Gray Monk Estate Winery • Stan Martindale – Ramada Kelowna Hotel & Conference Centre

• Dan Matheson – Okanagan Golf Club • Nataley Nagy – Kelowna Art Gallery • Sam Samaddar – Kelowna International Airport

• Heather Schroeter – Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas

• Dale Sivucha – Kelowna Hotel Motel Association

• Tanya Stroinig – Prestige Hotels & Resorts

• Cedric Young – Fairfield Inn & Suites Kelowna

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