Stop, stay, shop and play.
That’s the new motto for Lake Country as it moves forward with a three-year tourism strategy aimed at getting more people to come to Lake Country, stay in the area and spend valuable tourism dollars within Lake Country.
Lake Country council unanimously adopted the strategy at last week’s council meeting, moving forward with the plans that outline a “high-level vision centred on improving ways for visitors to Lake Country to stop, stay, shop and play in the community,” the report stated.
“The vision is that Lake Country will become a hub for tourism activity in the Central Okanagan and position the community as a memorable place to stop, stay, shop and play,” said Lake Country community development manager Jamie McEwan. “We want to get people to stay in the community and spend their money here.”
The tourism strategy lays out the strengths of Lake Country when it comes to tourism, including its strategic position in the Okanagan Valley, its proximity to the Kelowna International Airport and UBCO, the rural and quiet environment, small town atmosphere, high quality wineries, beaches and lakes as well as cycling routes.
It also lays out future opportunities like the Okanagan Rail Trail and Pelmewash Parkway and talks about the aspirations to attract international travellers and become widely known as a place to explore within the Okanagan.
But one part of the plan—to commission a hotel feasibility study in 2017 to assess Lake Country’s readiness for a potential hotel development—had one councillor asking why the district would pay to study market conditions for a hotel in Lake Country.
“Why would we be allocating a significant amount of money to do a feasibility study for a hotel? Wouldn’t the developer do that?” questioned Coun. Penny Gambell. “I don’t think we are going to get a developer coming here unless they see this is an area they are going to invest in. They are going to do all the numbers. They are going to do the analysis. I don’t see why we are going to do the work for them.”
In response, McEwan said a potential feasibility study for a hotel would be another way to attract a potential developer to the community.
“It just becomes another tool in the tool-kit such as the statistics around our building permits and population growth,” said McEwan. “It’s just an extra complimentary document that could benefit us. It would not only assess specific sites but also Lake Country’s readiness so we have targeted ways we could approach hotel developers.”
The feasibility study has not been approved by council as specific plans within the tourism strategy still need to get funding approval but McEwan says the cost would be less than $10,000 and the information could be critical in attracting a larger hotel that would also have meeting and conference rooms available.
“For a number of years council has looked at attracting a hotel or convention centre so we have space that can be rented out for convention purposes,” he said. “It would provide additional places for people to stay when they come through town so they don’t have to seek accommodation in surrounding communities.”
Another part of the tourism strategy centres around short-term vacation rentals and work is underway to create a policy on those rentals that are for less than 30 days. Currently those short term rentals are not allowed under Lake Country’s zoning bylaws, but bylaw contraventions are only enforced if there are public complaints.
Overall, the Tourism Strategy is the first time Lake Country has had a specific strategy aimed at increasing tourism for the district and the plan was done in-house, meaning other than staff time there were no extra costs associated with its development.
“It’s a certainly a positive for the community (to have this plan),” said McEwan. “As the community grows we’re looking at ways to keep people in the community. This provides a foundation for us to move ahead.”
Specific tactics and timing of Lake Country’s three year tourism strategy
•Create a tourism product inventory.
•Meet with the OKIB to discuss areas of mutual tourism-related interest during a Community-to-Community Forum.
•Market the contents of the tourism product inventory to provide more reasons for tourists to stop in Lake Country.
•Revisit the Destination Event concept as considered for 2016.
•Increase tradeshow activity in the retail, homebuilding, and tourism sectors, recognizing that they are interdependent.
•Add to the online presence of tourism marketing and product inventory through OkanaganWay.ca and social media.
•Work with local cultural organizations to continue developing the vibrant arts, culture, and heritage that already exists.
•Maintain and strengthen the focus on Town Centre development and encourage an increase in recreational and tourism focused businesses within the District.
•Develop a specific short-term vacation rental policy.
•Commission a feasibility study to assess community and market readiness for a hotel development.
•Incorporate research into market readiness for a new community campground and RV services (e.g. grounds, sani-dump, etc.).
•Incorporate the results of the feasibility study into marketing and attraction materials for attracting a hotel to the District.
•Assess policy and practices to ensure that they remain effective for existing accommodations businesses across the spectrum, and position Lake Country for growth in its supply of accommodations for tourists.
•Re-assess Town Centre incentives to determine if they may be modified to attract businesses that could serve tourists and locals.
•Connect local event operators with businesses to collaborate and capitalize on local tourism together, particularly those with a destination event component.
•Market the downtown in conjunction with the hotel feasibility study to improve the market for local tourism businesses.
•Incorporate business licensing and private marketing materials into an online repository of curated tourism assets, including a full spectrum of tourism “product” such as: farm-gate operations, B&B’s, short-term vacation rentals, motels, hotels, and resorts, retail businesses, and recreational businesses.
•Attract a broad base of retail opportunities for tourists and residents alike.
•The District will strive for continuous improvement of processes that are fair and streamlined with respect to attracting tourism businesses
•Begin the community engagement and planning processes for the Okanagan Rail Corridor, working alongside the Interjurisdictional Development Team.
•Utilize results of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan to strengthen connections between parks and trails.
•Begin the development process in addition to detailed planning for the Okanagan Rail Corridor.
•Create a winery/vineyard marketing action plan.
•Develop Pelmewash Parkway following the Provincial Order in Council transferring ownership to Lake Country.
•Attract/market investment in recreational opportunities, wine and agri-tourism, and ancillary retail businesses