The outlook for the tourism industry across the region is for a third consecutive year of growth, says the president of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.
Glenn Mandziuk, president of TOTA which is headquartered in Kelowna, says tourist visitor statistics released by the provincial government reflected another boom year for tourism in 2016.
The international visitor numbers were up 12.2 per cent for January-October 2016 compared to the previous year, which translated into 531,431 more visitors to the province.
Notable increases included from Australia, 45.3 per cent; China, 23.2 per cent; Mexico, 23 per cent; the UK, 2.8 per cent; and the U.S., up 8.1 per cent.
While the government touted the emergency of metro Vancouver and southern Vancouver Island has attracting a visitor increase, Mandziuk said there is definite spillover in tourism visitor growth for the Thompson Okanagan region.
“Vancouver and Victoria are still doing stronger from a tourism perspective within the province, but we are certainly a close third with a great opportunity moving forward to continue to grow our industry,” Mandziuk said.
In 2016, Mandziuk noted a 60 per cent visitor increase in the South Okanagan, stronger numbers in parts of the North Thompson area and an increase of 15 per cent in the Central Okanagan.
“When you look at the numbers on a sector by sector basis for our region, we see the outdoor adventure experiences for tourists up 20 to 30 per cent, the golf sector up 10 per cent, so there are very strong indicators and there is no doubt the region has come off two very good years from a tourism perspective,” Mandziuk said.
He cites many factors for that growth, starting with a partnership regional approach to marketing on a regional level and successful promotion initiatives launched by Destination BC and Destination Canada.
“Groups across the region such as Tourism Kelowna are working together to help promote tourism, buying into the concept that what is good for one area of the region will be beneficial to others parts of the region as well,” he said.
That is a platform that TOTA has been actively promoting prior to 2015, and buying into that concept, Mandziuk feels, is starting to pay dividends
“When all our partners across the region come together to promote our area, that helps spur a lot of growth,” he said.
The increased access through flight arrivals from other locations at Kelowna International Airport has also been a magnet for drawing visitors to this region, Mandziuk added.
“When the airport opens up new flight destinations, that is creating more access to our area destinations and we have seen the impact of that.”
Year-end statistics reveal that the airport served 1,732,113 passengers in 2016, an increase of 8.7 per cent over last year. That represents nearly 140,000 additional travellers.
December proved to be YLW’s busiest month ever, with 166,537 passengers, surpassing the record-breaking month of August this summer.
He cited other factors in the current tourism boom as more Canadians staying home and vacationing in their own backyard because of the depreciated Loonie, and increased recognition as a destination spot from prominent U.S. media travel articles and recommendations from major players like The Lonely Planet, CNN, New York Times and ABC.
“Certainly we are seen as a safe area to visit, the dollar value increases the bang for their buck for American visitors and a growing realization of the quality of experiences offered by our region,” he said.
But for all the good news, Mandziuk says TOTA’s goal remains to continue to spread out the tourism season in summer to the spring and fall, the so-called shoulder season.
“We are seeing reductions in the drop-off that happens in the spring and summer but we still have a long way to go towards breaking down those seasonal destination barriers to encourage and enable more people to visit in the spring and fall months,” he said.
“When those changes start to happen in significant way, it will make for a more sustainable tourism industry in our region.”
That sustainability, he added, will allow tourism business operators to retain employees longer and bring more tourism related investment to the region.
As well, Mandziuk says the First Nations across the region can play a significant role in adding to the tourism experience opportunities.
“Our First Nations tourism initiatives has largely been created by the Osoyoos Indian Band but we are seeing new product coming on stream with wineries developed in Enderby and West Kelowna, and the Kamloops area has become more active in that regard as well,” he said.