To the editor:
Visitor centres play an important role in optimizing the economic impact of tourism for their communities by inspiring visitors to see and do more.
In Kelowna, the numbers are unequivocal about the economic impact of tourism on our city—visitors spend $279 million in our destination annually.
Tourism generates $100 million in tax revenues divided by all levels of government, per year, translating into amenities, infrastructure and programs for residents.
Data shows that communities are doing their utmost to position their visitor centres where tourists congregate and where pedestrians can access them while exploring the community in order to provide the best service possible to guests.
Several B.C. communities have already done this and show impressive increases in usage and effectiveness of their downtown visitor centres.
In Kelowna, we will need to take the same approach and we will need an appealing visitor centre that will serve as the “face” of the community to our visitors.
At Tourism Kelowna, we eat, sleep and breathe tourism. We are up-to-speed on trends, declines and best practices. We want to share these learnings with you, our community. We recognize that you might have questions. Do any of these look familiar?
Aren’t visitor centres best located on the highway?
With the advent of GPS and other way-finding technologies, the number of vehicle-oriented visitors utilizing highway visitor centres throughout North America, including Kelowna, is declining rapidly as there is no longer as strong a demand for directional services from tourists.
As a result of this change in visitor centre usage patterns, the business models for these centres have to adapt.
The statistics clearly demonstrate this and several B.C. visitor centres, including Richmond, Prince George and most recently Vernon, have or are in the process of relocating.
A successful visitor centre must be accessible to large volumes of tourists at the point in their vacation when they are beginning their exploration of Kelowna.
For most, this begins in downtown Kelowna along the waterfront. It is at this moment when a visitor centre provides a warm welcome to our guests and can attract and influence a much greater number of visitors to see more, stay longer and spend more in our community than could be done at the highway location.
This is why 78 per cent of visitor centres in comparable North America destinations are now located in their main tourist district and/or downtown core where they can be accessed by large volumes of tourist foot traffic.
What size of building are we talking about?
The size of the building has not been confirmed, however, the size proposed by Tourism Kelowna is approximately 5,000 square feet, which is in-keeping with average sizes of visitor centres in the U.S. and Canada for destinations of similar size and budget.
This is according to the 2013 Visitor Information Centres Study, conducted by Destination Marketing Association International where the average size of visitor centres in this category was 5,486 square feet.
Would we be losing access to the lakefront?
Actually, lakefront access will be improved for residents and tourists. The waterfront walking path currently cuts through the parking lot.
It will now be constructed around the lakefront side of the building increasing the amount of waterfront pathway and will improve the connectivity between Stuart Park and the marina area with a more scenic route.
The proposed building will be no more than two storeys and will be built in a manner that compliments the surrounding buildings.
Remember, we are talking about a building that will serve as the “face” of Kelowna—it will be a facility for residents to be proud of and to represent what is beautiful about our city.
What if people on the highway can’t find the visitor centre?
This will indeed be a challenge, however, fewer and fewer tourists are seeking out visitor centres while they are driving into or through a destination.
This is why our user numbers are dropping so rapidly, to the point where, within a few years, a highway location will be completely obsolete. This is also why a new highway location is not the answer.
We will ensure good signage along the highway to offset this issue.
Won’t this mean that we are losing parking spaces downtown?
There may be a loss of downtown parking due to the building of this centre but the extent of this is unknown at this point. The proposed area currently has 21 parking stalls.
Will this clog our downtown with tour buses?
Tour buses have pre-set itineraries and do not stop at the Kelowna Visitor Centre for information, regardless of its location.
Will this clog our downtown with RVs?
The likelihood of increased RV traffic downtown is minimal since the current visitor centre services only a modest RV clientele.
Two RV pull-through parking spots are currently available and it is rare that both spots are used at the same time during the peak season.
RVs currently park in the City Park and explore from there (500 metres from parking lot to Queensway Jetty). Placing a visitor centre at the Queensway Jetty parking lot is not expected to have any significant impact on convenience for RVers.
What benefit is a visitor centre to local residents and the downtown?
A downtown visitor centre would play a direct role in increasing the safety of downtown pedestrians year-round because it brings people to the area, which creates higher levels of utilization. Busier neighbourhoods are known to be safer neighbourhoods. A visitor centre is open year round providing more eyes in the area during the daytime hours, which inhibits unwanted activities.
Kelowna needs a visitor centre that will showcase the destination to the best of our abilities.
Many livelihoods are dependent on tourism in Kelowna. This is the quintessential civic facility in that it benefits the community as a whole.
The outcome will be longer visitor stays, increased customers to all businesses that rely on tourism and positive referrals and repeat visitation.
Stan Martindale, chair,
Tourism Kelowna board of directors