The Penticton Hospitality Association says that far from sitting on hotel room tax funding, they are busy getting up to speed in their tourism marketing plan.
“The PHA didn’t suddenly inherit a rolodex of a network of people. It’s a standing start,” said operations director Tim Hodgkinson. “We had to do our own internal due diligence to get things in place, which we have now done, in order to build a solid platform.
“It’s about professionalism. We’re not behind the game that much. It’s just unfortunate people don’t know where we are.”
Last year, the City of Penticton agreed to a deal that gave the PHA full control over the two per cent hotel room tax — collected to fund external tourism marketing and amounting to about $400,000 per year. Previously those funds were turned over to Penticton Tourism, along with a similar contribution from the city.
Hodgkinson said they were new to the experience of tourism marketing, and so took some time to review and research, wanting to ensure the funds are used effectively.
“It’s not just about going out and meeting people and handing them a cheque,” said Hodgkinson. “We had to meet the existing people that are working, like Tourism Penticton, and figure how we can work with people as best we can.”
Through this process, the PHA identified three channels: partnerships with groups like Peachfest, their own initiatives and funding smaller third-party initiatives. Their research and initial work, Hodgkinson said, accounts for why the PHA spent little of last year’s funding.
However, he added, they are ready to go for 2013, and contrary to suggestions by city council, haven’t lost the season. They have a print and online campaign ready to launch and have been talking with a number of groups about their marketing needs.
“We deliberately want to, where we could, be proactive,” said Hodgkinson. “Some people did come to us first, but we made an effort, on top of everything else we are trying to do to set up the operation, to go out and talk to people directly. Over the course of all that time, we saw as many people as we could, given the other things we had to put in place.
According to Hodgkinson, there are about 30 to 40 organizations they have met with. Of those, he continued, several have received funding, including: the TedEx conference; Penticton Bridge Tournament; Peach Festival; Elvis Festival, and most recently, Challenge Penticton, which received a $35,000 grant from the PHA.
Along with their own print campaign, which is just about to launch, Hodgkinson said they’ve also been working with Tourism Penticton on their interactive city tourism app, a print ad campaign, and an online ad campaign through Google.
Collaborating with Tourism Penticton is important, said Hodgkinson, though they plan to take a complementary approach, focusing on established markets.
“Traditionally, this has been the peaches and beaches thing. The largest segment of the visitor base are the people that are looking for that beach holiday,” he said, adding that it amounts to 85 per cent of Penticton visitors, with 15 per cent that are coming for the wine industry specifically
“We want to reconnect with our historic visitor base in order to remind them of how wonderful a time they had in Penticton,” said Hodgkinson. “Maybe they have grown up now and they had kids … we want to reconnect with people and remind people we are still here.”
Hodgkinson admits there has not been much contact between the PHA and Tourism Penticton at the board level, though he said that isn’t because of bad blood between the two groups.
“A meeting is planned, but to date there hasn’t needed to be, purely because Jesse Campbell and myself have been sitting down and discussing projects,” he said. “It’s difficult because there is a new working style for people to get used to, but nonetheless it’s positive and it can work.”
Hodgkinson describes the relationship as a new landscape that both sides need to feel their way through.
“My view is that actually we’re all working to a point where the funds can be used as one. We’re working towards that moment and it is coming,” he said. “I do see a point down the road we have already put the past behind us. I do see a point where it all sort of converges.”