The authentic Thompson Okanagan region experience continues to be a drawing card for attracting tourists, says the CEO of the Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association (TOTA).
Ellen Walker-Matthews says the industry in B.C. was building on the concept of sustainable tourism business practices, respecting the local environment and creating interactive experiences with the local community with an emphasis on Indigenous culture prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From an authenticity viewpoint, we want to make sure we are not becoming like Disneyland,” Walker-Matthews said.
“We want to make sure our tourism story is rooted in the history of our region, to stay focused on that.”
TOTA was at the forefront of that movement, earning international recognition from tourist advocacy groups and influencing the provincial government approach to boosting tourism through Destination BC marketing campaigns.
Today, in the aftermath of the pandemic, Walker-Matthews says those concepts remain front and centre to local tourism promotion, taking on a new branding as biospherology.
Technically, biospherology is a term describing a branch of knowledge reflecting development and implementation of sustainable tourism practices, recognizing the global ecosystems are made up of interconnected relationships.
“It is a management strategy as an organization to move towards destination marketing…to make sure we protect what we have now from an environment sustainability perspective for people to live with an enjoy in the future,” she said.
“The idea of biosphere is a reflection of the relationship between local residents, our visitors and our planet to keep things in better shape.”
The concept of biospherology will be front and centre as a discussion focus at the upcoming TOTA Tourism Summit, slated for Feb. 22 at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Walker-Matthews said the summit this year will move away from tourism stakeholders listening to speeches to more interactive sessions with insights offered by tourism global and regional leaders addressing topics such as destination management, response to climate change, access and inclusion, Indigenous tourism and more.
“Rather than just people talking at you, we want it to be an immersive event this year, giving participants the opportunity to educate themselves with ideas they can take back and implement into their businesses,” she said.
On Feb. 21, to start the summit there will be a social gathering involving participants in the Scotty’s Tournament of Hearts national women’s curling finals also taking place in Kamloops.
From a tourism business perspective, Walker-Matthews said the 2022 tourism season was a successful bounce-back from COVID-19, and she says all signs point to another positive season for 2023.
“It was a rebound year for us (in 2022). We saw a little less occupancy but revenue was up because the rates were up.
“Our stakeholders are pretty comfortable with our summer months but we continue to look for growth in our spring and fall months.”
Outdoor vacation experiences and the wine industry continue to be anchors for drawing visitors to the region, both from across North America and from Europe.
She said the Okanagan Rail Trail is still in its infancy as a drawing card to the region in the same way the Kettle Valley Rail Trail has become, but that is likely to change as awareness and development of the trail system ultimately connecting the Central Okanagan to the Shuswap grows.