Salmon Arm's Visitor Information Centre sits empty on Wednesday morning, Aug. 26, 2020. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Technology replacing Okanagan’s tourism centres

Use of centres drop drastically in Penticton, Salmon Arm, Kamloops and Vernon

With maps, reviews and suggestions readily available at our fingertips, the need for some services is fading.

That’s exactly the case with the Vernon tourism centre, which has closed its doors for good.

“Over the last few years, the use of the brick and mortar facility has gone down and down,” the city’s community infrastructure and development director Kim Flick said.

Cell phones, tablets and computers have taken over the work of tourist information centres in the past five years. The steady decline is evident since 2006, when the visitor information centre had 25,429 visitors. By 2019 that number dropped 58 per cent to 10,583.

The centre saw a slight uptick in usage in the summer of 2014 when centralized, but the downward trend has continued since then.

“The stats speak volumes, it’s losing money, it’s not doing what it intended,” Coun. Kari Gares said.

The situation is similar in other communities when looking at data from 2010 to 2019:

• Kamloops saw a 52 per cent decrease (its centre closed in 2020)

• Salmon Arm experienced a 48 per cent drop

• Penticton saw a drastic drop of 82 per cent

Operating the centre has been costly. While Destination BC provides an annual $25,000 grant, Vernon’s annual operations contract was approximately $190,000. That price tag did not include maintenance of the building.

Instead, the Tourism Commission has endorsed an interim approach to visitor serving for 2021 – spending $25,000 to enhance digital visitor servicing and $30,000 for mobile visitor servicing.

“Going to where the tourists are and providing them with what they need,” Flick said.

The old brick building will instead be used as a washroom facility for the City Centre Park which is under construction at the old Civic Arena site.

READ MORE: More roundabouts coming to Vernon

But there are still some who rely on such centres to find what they are looking for.

Coun. Scott Anderson said he did just that on a past visit to Prince George.

He blames the location of Vernon’s centre as part of the decline in attendance. Tucked in town, forcing southbound motorists to turn left off the highway, made it unattractive, he said, adding having centres at either end of town was the better way to go.

“Moving it downtown was just a dumb idea all around,” Anderson said.

The removal of the tourism centre also includes removing the sani-dump station. It will be temporarily relocated at the old Kin Racetrack until a permanent location can be identified.

READ MORE: Sani-dump moving to Vernon’s old Kin Racetrack


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