The year just past has been a good one for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.
The tourism association is a finalist in the 15th United Nations World Tourism Awards, recognized for the organization’s drive toward tourism sustainability in its Embracing our Potential strategy.
“We were honoured to receive notice and recognition in World Tourism’s non-governmental category,” president and chief executive officer Glenn Mandziuk says.
The award comes on the heels of two other awards the organization picked up last year, which included the Travel and Tourism Council Award in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they beat several competing American tourism organizations, and the World Travel Awards for responsible tourism more recently won in Lisbon.
“This is like icing on the cake, recognition from the United Nations. It doesn’t get better,” Mandziuk says.
He credits local industry’s buy into the program, which began six years ago after the association developed a regional strategy for the Thompson Okanagan.
Mandziuk says everyone endorsed the program that sought to develop the local tourist industry in a respectful way, ensuring the area’s environment, cultural, social and economic values were maintained.
He says the group has since developed such things as electric vehicle charging stations, indigenous arts programs with 33 local indigenous communities, and a comprehensive rail trail initiative, in addition to working with Access B.C. to support people with disabilities coming to visit the region.
Mandziuk says the tourism association has since developed new ways of collecting tourist data, including cell phone tower data through Telus that allows them to get real time information on tourism.
Privacy laws limit what information can be gleaned, but Mandziuk says the association can define such things as how many tourists are visiting at a particular time, in addition to having some understanding as to where they are from.
“In 2010, 80 per cent of tourism revenue was generated in 25 days. Now it’s closer to 110 days, with our goal to reach 200 days. Then we’ll know we have an economically sustainable destination,” he says.
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association is also one of 21 organizations world wide to receive “biosphere certification,” a responsible tourism system offering a holistic approach to sustainability, and is the first organization in the Americas to do so.