More help for region at tourism

Okanagan officials optimistic about concept for government-funded marketing programs

Tourism officials in the Okanagan are cautiously optimistic about a proposed concept that would streamline the sector’s government-funded marketing programs.

By collapsing a patchwork of funding opportunities into two targeted pools of money, Destination BC hopes it and the tourism sector will get more bang for its marketing bucks.

“All of these programs have industry at the centre where we are putting together programs that represent industry or have industry able to buy in to reach their targeted consumer,” said Richard Lewis, the agency’s director of sector development, told the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association summit Wednesday in Penticton.

The concept would see all provincial marketing money directed into two streams: one devoted to strategic priorities of skiing, aboriginal tourism, touring and exploring; and the other for consortiums of three or more communities, regions or industry sectors.

Lewis said Destination BC will be collecting feedback until the spring, when it hopes to roll out a final version of the plan in time to accept applications next fall.

Tourism Penticton CEO Chris Bower likes the idea of more help rolling out the region’s 10-year strategy and fostering partnerships within sectors, such as wine.

“We’re working on it now, but the more assistance we have, the better the product we are going to have out there,” he said.

Bower is concerned, however, that there may be less money for the region.

“If they shrink those dollars it means less for us because we have the largest number of stakeholders in tourism in the Thompson-Okanagan,” he said.

Ange Chew, tourism manager for the City of Vernon, was similarly concerned about smaller communities or consortiums being able to come up with funds necessary to match the proposed $25,000 minimum for new programs.

“But that’s the discussion here and hopefully that can be sorted and we can get our feedback heard and maybe there can be some adjustments so that we can partner together,” she said.

TOTA CEO Glen Mandziuk said all of the financial concerns are legitimate and his group will push hard to make sure its partners’ voices are heard during the consultation process. However, he supports the new  new, simplified approach over what’s in place today.

“There may be too many programs that have differing guidelines, so people don’t know where they fit, so that might be a problem,” he said of the current system.

“It’s healthy to review programs every so often.”

Destination BC executive director Marsha Walden said the agency currently provides about $5 million annually for tourism marketing and hopes to free up an additional $2 million to roll out the new program in 2017.

She said funding arrangements are still “fluid,” but that regions will be guaranteed a share of the pot to ensure fairness across the province.