Destination Osoyoos ending its role in economic development as it focuses on tourism and marketing

Destination Osoyoos (DO) will be ending its role in economic development at the end of the year to focus its efforts on tourism and marketing.

That’s when a five-year contract with the Town of Osoyoos that started in 2014 to provide economic development services expires.

Kelley Glazer, executive director of DO, said the decision not to renew DO’s contract with the town was mutual.

“I think what (the economic development role) did was make us less focused on any one thing,” said Glazer. “I was trying to split my energy between two very different disciplines.”

By returning economic development to the town, it allows DO to focus on its core responsibility of tourism promotion, she said.

Barry Romanko, chief administrative officer with the Town of Osoyoos, sees advantages to having the town handle economic development internally.

“Any developers or people that want to do business in the town usually come to the town office first,” said Romanko.

That’s because they normally contact the town’s planning and development office first. Developers want to know about land zoning and businesses want to know about business licenses and zoning, he said.

“That’s why the first experience usually starts here,” said Romanko.

In anticipation of the change, the town has recently posted a position for a “community development manager.”

Romanko noted that the new position includes economic development, but is broader in scope, also including such community development projects as those involving social services.

The new person will be housed in the same office as the planning office, Romanko said.

“They have economic development, but they’ve also got a broader community perspective,” he said, noting that the kinds of issues the person could be involved with include housing, downtown revitalization, the town’s use of the resort municipality initiative funds, and more.

The five-year economic development contract was agreed to shortly before Gail Scott was hired as the executive director of DO. Scott’s specialization was economic development.

The service agreement contract provided $88,000 annually to DO, almost half of which was earmarked to be paid to an individual to administer economic development activities. Initially that person was Scott, but after she left in 2016, it fell to Glazer, whose background is in tourism marketing and hospitality.

“I was confused at how we could be successful with the economic development portfolio,” Glazer admits. “It’s kind of like asking a scientist to be artistic. They’re two very different disciplines.”

Nonetheless, Glazer said DO developed a website promoting economic development and it became involved in the airport society.

“The economic development committee at the time decided that was a good project for us to get involved in because if we were successful in developing a usable recreational airport, that would definitely impact our tourism numbers,” Glazer said.

She describes economic development as an umbrella with several pillars. One of these is tourism, but there are many others – like land development, business attraction and retention. And these are a better fit for the town.

“We are the experts in marketing and they are the experts in talking to developers about what kind of houses we need, what businesses can or can’t do here, doing the math on job creation from those businesses and those kinds of things,” she said.

While DO has other fee-for-services agreements, including an agreement with the town to provide tourism and visitor services, the bulk of its funding comes from the Municipal and Regional District Tax Program (MRDT).

MRDT is funded by a hotel and motel tax – currently two per cent in Osoyoos – intended for local tourism marketing.

Glazer acknowledges that the cancellation of the economic development contract will mean a loss of revenue. At the same time, the 2018 tourist season was hurt by floods and smoke, meaning MRDT revenues may also be down.

She hopes to gain support from the hotel and motel industry to increase the MRDT to three per cent from the current two. And she plans to explore partnerships with other communities in the area – Penticton for example – to leverage DO’s marketing dollars.

“We bring people from all over the world to experience the Okanagan,” said Glazer. “You must realize that they don’t only want to see Osoyoos. They are still going up and down the valley and we recognize that. So now we’re sharing some of those costs and projects with other communities.”

Glazer said DO’s board held a retreat on Oct. 17 where they established a new mission vision to guide the organization in its new role.

“Osoyoos will be known as Canada’s most desirable year-round destination through our marketing and promotional activities,” the statement says. “Destination Osoyoos is a marketing organization mandated to increase visitation and encourage guests to stay longer and experience more.”

Glazer said she hopes the community will have a better understanding of what DO does and doesn’t do.

Often groups have approached DO seeking money to support events.

“We don’t have that kind of money and it falls outside of marketing,” she said. “It’s really important that the community understands I’m not able to fund the actual event, but I want to encourage them to allow us to help market and promote that event.”

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