Kelowna is now playing in the big leagues as a Canadian destination for meetings.
While the recession and improvements in telecommunications has reduced the amount of corporate meetings up for grabs, the city is now vying with larger and more prominent centres, such as Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler, to entice groups looking for a place to meet, said the head of Tourism Kelowna Monday.
Nancy Cameron, CEO for Tourism Kelowna, gave her annual state of the local industry presentation to Kelowna city council, saying the city is now considered a “tier one” city when it comes to being a spot for destination meetings.
As a result, the local tourism marketing organization is targeting potential groups in a bid to bring more meetings here.
With a meetings sales manager based in Toronto, as well as a meetings and events sales manager here and a full-time person in charge of attracting sports events, Cameron said Tourism Kelowna is making the attraction of meetings and sports events a big focus of its work this year.
“This has been a year-long effort for us, with $15,000 of hard costs and immeasurable hours of staff time,” she told council.
The local tourism industry, which according to a December 2011 study generates a total economic impact of $653 million, accounts for 7,072 direct jobs, attracts 1.5 million visitors each year and accounts for $176 million in direct wages, is now a true economic generator for this area, said Cameron.
But while the industry continues to rebound from the downturn caused by the recession, it is providing Kelowna Tourism with niche markets to concentrate on.
With more than 90 per cent of visitors from Canada—and 56 per cent of them from B.C.—the traditional summer family vacation remains big business.
But in recent years, other reasons that are also attracting people to the Kelowna have sprang up, such as golf, winery holidays and agri-tourism.
So Kelowna Tourism has targeted all three. As a result of campaigns that have included liberal use of social media, Cameron said the city has seen large increases in the number of people coming here for those recreational pursuits.
“We have used a targeted approach to generate inquiries (from potential tourists),” said Cameron. “Once here, we provide them with information they may not get elsewhere to increase their spending, increase their length of stay and their referrals (to others). That’s what we’re really after.”
And, in a bid to increase its visibility, Kelowna Tourism says it is looking forward to a new visitor information centre downtown near The Sails at Abbott Street and Bernard Avenue.
Council voted last year to support the new location.
While the centre is still in the planning stages, there is no firm timeline for when it would be built, and Coun. Robert Hobson said the province will need to get on board to make the building a reality.
Kelowna Tourism is also expanding its reach.
It recently made a deal with Lake Country to include marketing that area as a tourism destination as part of its Kelowna brand, said Cameron.
Working with 300 local business here, Kelowna Tourism generated $2.6 million in revenue last year, more than half of it from the two per cent hotel room tax levied and used to market this area as a tourism destination.
It also raised revenue from a similar tax collected by some West Kelowna accommodation sites that want to be included in Kelowna Tourism’s marketing plans.
Tourism marketing for this area is also expected to get a much needed shot in the arm in the coming months, when a series of short television spots start to air across the country produced by The Travel Guys, a pair of presenters who highlight destination spots and broadcast their experiences.
The spots will run in 16 different markets across Canada.