Tourism Kelowna’s new CEO says 2017 was an “interesting” year for the tourist industry in the city, a year that presented both challenges and opportunities.
Speaking after her presentation at Tourism Kelowna’s AGM Tuesday, Lisanne Ballantyne said with the late spring flooding and the subsequent wildfires in other parts of the province that blanketed the valley in smoke for several weeks in the early summer, the tourism industry did take a hit. But it rebounded well.
“This year was challenging with the weather, but how we rebounded was important,” said Ballantyne, who took over from long-time CEO Nancy Cameron six weeks ago. Cameron left the position in the summer to move to Vancouver Island.
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But while the weather had an impact on tourism in the city this year, it was not all gloom and doom.
Tourism Kelowna’s new lake-shore visitor centre, planned for the foot of Queensway, got the go-ahead from city council despite vocal opposition from some in the community upset about its location.
But Ballantyne said the new centre is needed, not just because the existing visitor centre on Harvey Avenue is too small but also because the location of the centre puts it where the people are, in the heart of downtown.
According to the Tourism Kelowna CEO, the days of tourists arriving in RVs in large numbers and being handed brochures directing them to local tourist attractions are over.
“A visitor centre counsellor has to be part of the visitor experience nowadays,” she said.
Visitors typically book travel over the internet and when they arrive at a destination seek assistance in creating a personalized itinerary to experience what a city has to offer, based of their individual preferences. And they want to access that information on the technology they carry with them, such as cell phones and tablets.
“The days of us handing out brochures are over,” she said.
That is why the new visitor centre, located where the people are, will be so important, she said.
The new 3,000-square-foot glass, wood and concrete building is expected to be completed by next summer.
In the meantime, the local tourist industry will continue its push to attract visitors in the winter months in its bid to make Kelowna a year-round destination, said Ballantyne.
She said since coming here, she has been impressed by the willingness of local tourism-related businesses to work together, something she said is not always the case elsewhere.
“On the tourism side, we are pretty selfless here,” she said.
And that approach not only helps keep visitors here longer but makes them want to return, she added.
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