PROVIDING ACCESS One of the buses owned and operated by Ogopogo Tours of Summerland can accommodate six conventional wheelchairs or five motorized wheelchairs. The company has worked to provide accessibility to those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. (Contributed.)

Summerland tour company recognized for providing accessibility

Ogopogo Tours has two buses which can accommodate users in wheelchairs

A Summerland-based tourism business has received recognition for efforts to accommodate people in wheelchairs and those with mobility issues.

Ogopogo Tours received the Tourism Association of B.C.’s first Accessible Tourism Award, recognized by the province’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

The award recognizes a tourism business that has made a significant contribution towards making the province an inclusive and welcoming destination.

The other finalists in the category included Big White Ski Resort and Caledonia Nordic Ski Club.

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Darren Sweet, who started the business with his wife Adonica five years ago, said they had wanted to include accessibility features in their buses. Then, while at a tourism conference, he was able to spend some time in a wheelchair. That was when they made accessibility a priority.

Today, the company has two accessible vehicles. One is a bus which seats 22 people and can accommodate two wheelchairs. The other is a minibus which can accommodate six standard wheelchairs or five motorized wheelchairs.

He has reached this capacity on some tour runs.

Sweet said providing accessible buses allows some of his customers to participate in the tours he offers.

“Mostly it’s about respect and awareness,” he said.

Sweet is also aware of the stops along the way when he offers tours. Some wineries are well equipped to accommodate wheelchairs, while others are not as accessible.

“There are different degrees of accessibility,” he said.

In the future, he would like to be able to do more to provide accessible transportation. He is planning to apply for the licensing to provide a ride sharing service in fall.

Ogopogo Tours has received other awards including the Canadian Tour Operator of the Year 2020 Award by the Luxury Travel Guide. The business has also won the Canadian Sustainable Tour Operator of the year in 2017 and 2018 to 2019.

Last year, the company received a Tourism Excellence Award from the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, and also received the Sustainable Resource Industry Award in 2018.

“Ogopogo Tours have gone above and beyond to provide an exceptional accessible tourism product in the South Okanagan area,” said Sonja Gaudet, a three-time paralympic gold medalist. “As a wheelchair user myself, I can’t tell you what it means to know that I can be included and that I am able to participate in experiences alongside family and friends, something that many people take for granted.”

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