The president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna says her organization needs to be more aggressive in marketing this area in the spring and summer months, if it wants to get back to the visitor numbers seen prior to the recession.
Nancy Cameron said while the summer is always strong in the Okanagan, in order to get back to the stellar level of tourism seen in Kelowna (and across Canada) in 2008, more work has to be done to shore up the “shoulder” seasons.
“We are still about three per cent lower then we were in 2008,” said Cameron, who delivered a state-of-the industry report to representatives of the local tourism industry earlier this week. “It was not just a blip in 2009, it’s an on-going problem.”
Tourism numbers here dropped off dramatically in 2009 (down 10 per cent) because of the biting effects of the economic downturn and despite climbing back slightly in the last two years, have still not returned to the 2008 level.
Cameron said because tourism is so closely tied to issues such as employment and discretionary spending, it is often one of the first things cut from the personal budgets when times get tough.
“Right now, the whole recession is on people’s minds. People are just cautious.”
While promoting summer travel here won’t be forgotten, Tourism Kelowna plans to “laser in” on travellers who it knows like to visit areas for specific activities, such as golfers and wine buffs.
“We’re going to be highly tactical and focused to reach people we know have a high propensity to travel,” said Cameron.
Part of that is by shifting its messaging away from generalizations and stressing specifics.
She used the example of telling the travelling public this area is not just a great place to golf but that there are 19 golf courses to choose from, something that may come as a surprise to golfers, even those who already know in generalities this a good place to play.
The same can be done with the wineries, highlighting the fact there are 24 in this area, offering something for every wine lovers palette.
“Those two products are the one’s leading this approach,” she said of golf and wine tourism.
While summer visitors tend to stay longer, the typical shoulder season visitor is more likely to come for a long weekend and according to Tourism Kelowna’s latest five-year study, predominantly come from B.C. or Alberta and either drive here or take a short flight.
Recently, the local tourism promotion organization released figures that show increases in all but one area when it comes to the economic impact of tourism — visitor spending. That fell three per cent over the five year period from 2006 to 2011.
The same study showed the number of visitors that came here rose 26.9 per cent over the five-years to 1.5 million last year, the number of direct jobs created by the industry rose 39.7 per cent 7,027 and the economic output rose 68.7 per cent to $653 million.