Tourism gains sporting edge

Along with their bicycles Granfondo competitors brought with them support crews, fans and tourist dollars.

Andrea Scott of North Vancouver and her son

Andrea Scott of North Vancouver and her son

Earlier this month, more than 2,500 riders braved the searing South Okanagan heat to ride in the second annual Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan. Along with their bicycles they brought with them support crews, fans and — most importantly for the local economy — tourist dollars.

Penticton & Wine Country Tourism is still calculating the extent of the economic boost for the South Okanagan, but chief executive officer Jessie Campbell said this Granfondo should have a greater impact than the 2011 event. Last year, spending by spectators, participants and event organizers totalled more than $1.9 million.

With 500 more riders and several hundred more fans — an increase of almost 20 per cent over last year — the region and its businesses expect to see a significant economic spinoff.  Campbell said they won’t have specific figures for a while, but expects the increase in economic activity should be “relatively proportional” to the increase in riders.

“We’re still doing the measurement. It’s a very detailed analysis, we are working with the event organizers from Granfondo to finalize those numbers,” said Campbell. Factors like the budget for an event, number of participants and spectators, where they are coming from and more, explained Campbell, will be fed into an economic assessment tool developed by the Canadian Sports Tourism Alliance, of which Penticton is a member.

Campbell Watt, president of the Penticton Chamber of Commerce, said that events like Granfondo target an ideal visitor to Penticton. The event is family-oriented, he said, attracting a slightly older crowd willing to travel long distances to enjoy what the area has to offer, bringing their families and spending money while they are here.

“Business-wise, it’s a tremendous success. Any time you can bring that number of people into town at one time, it can do nothing but good,” said Watt. “Personally, being down at the market on Saturday, it was a tremendous turnout of people.”

“Overall, sporting events are fantastic for the area because of the number of people in the party. There is the participant, sometimes a significant other, sometimes kids, sometimes other family and friends, the whole support group from a sporting perspective,” said Campbell. “That’s why sports tourism has been identified as a huge opportunity for Penticton and Wine Country.”

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton also acknowledges the value the Granfondo brings to Penticton.

“Penticton has a history of delivering successful sports tourism events enjoyed by visitors, participants and residents alike,” said Ashton. “Events like the Granfondo are exceptionally valuable to the community. It generates significant economic activity while showcasing great local businesses, unique products and quality services.”

Watt said that the business sector is pleased by the people brought to town by this event and others, like the recent B.C. Interior RV Show.

“We are fully aware of what helps make our businesses in town. Tourism is helpful, but we can’t base all our decisions on tourism,” said Watt. “We have to create other events and the RV show and Granfondo, which has only been here two years now, these are the kind of thing we are trying to attract.”

With a looping 160 kilometre Granfondo course, Penticton isn’t the only community that benefits from the exposure created by this event. Summerland, Okanagan Falls, Kaleden and Oliver were also in line to receive a significant economic boost from the influx of visitors.

“Events like this have a huge economic benefit in the South Okanagan, including Oliver,” said Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes. “Our bed and breakfasts and motels are always full and we get the opportunity to introduce our area to such a broad range of people. These are tremendous benefits; we do not take it for granted, but use to showcase our region with the hope our visitors will return.”

“We thought last year’s Granfondo was amazing, but this year’s was even better,” says Valley First president Paulette Rennie. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Granfondo showcases our little slice of paradise, supports our region and attracts such tremendous investment. What better advertisement for the South Okanagan can you get?”