To the editor:
Recently we’ve seen news articles published by the local media concerning statements made in presentations by Tourism Kelowna at its AGM. The first articles purported that the chair of Tourism Kelowna boasted that the new visitor centre had visitations of 108,000 over the first 6 months of operations, smashing their goals of 100,000 visitors annually. The next day an article published provided that the 108,000 number included those only passing through the door to use the restrooms. I’ve subsequently learned that only approximately 39,000 of the 108,000 were actually assisted by centre staff.
The gross overstatement and misrepresentation of visitor counts is concerning.
Skeptic or not, it is generally accepted that tourism plays a major role in the Kelowna and surrounding area local economy. The majority of funding for Tourism Kelowna comes directly from taxpayers in one form or other. Information passed by Tourism Kelowna to local governments are relied upon by elected officials to make decisions that impact all local residents and visitors. For example, information released by Tourism Kelowna was key in approving the increase of the hotel tax as well as receipt of annual operating grants that come directly out of local taxpayer pockets. Not to be overlooked, information provided by Tourism Kelowna was used by local elected officials when it came to making available the Queensway property for construction of the visitor centre itself. The presented construction estimate of $2.8 million when the building permit value was $1.8 million is another matter.
Perhaps the biggest issue in all this is the fact the statements of visitor counts was made by the Chair of Tourism Kelowna – an individual that knew, or should have known, what the real counts were and what the public perceptions would be of his statements. The Tourism Kelowna Society Constitution, echoing the Society Act, requires that directors and officers act honestly in good faith as well as exercise care, diligence and skill of a reasonably competent person. Most definitely, one would expect the chair of any society be held to the highest standards in regard to the honesty and exercise of care duty – particularly when such society relies heavily on taxpayer money. False or misleading public statements by the Tourism Kelowna Chair negatively impact public perception of the integrity of Tourism Kelowna. It is not a stretch to view, and indeed many may, the gross misrepresentation of visitor counts as purposely deceptive to the public about the public benefits of the visitor centre specifically, and Tourism Kelowna generally.
Many questions arise out of all this: what other information presented by Tourism Kelowna has been purposely inflated or misrepresented for public consumption and/or local government decision making? Is tourism locally really a $1.25 billion industry or is it a fraction of that? Does the stated impact to the local economy need to be put under the microscope to validate the representations?