Words hurt Tourism Penticton

One of the worst wildfire seasons in B.C. history and numerous evacuation alerts caused by flooding were characterized as “smoke and high water” by Penticton’s tourism organization.

Tourism Penticton representative Barb Haynes made the characterizations when she presented to council at city budget deliberations last week.

Media coverage of “fires” and “flooding” was listed as one of the main challenges for Penticton’s tourism organization in 2018.

“The constant media coverage using that language of ‘we’re flooding’ and ‘we have wildfires,’ so we had high water and we had smoke. It is a different perception,” Haynes said.

She added the use of “BC State of Emergency” also sours tourism.

“If you’re from California and we put out a ‘BC State of Emergency,’ that language is much more disconcerting,” she said.

“It’s a technical term, it’s a necessary term, we understand that,” but Travel Penticton has to communicate with the goal of using “language to counteract some of those questions coming in to us,” Haynes said.

“We had some issues with ‘high water.’ We opt out of language like ‘flooding,’ because it’s not ‘flooding.’ For us, it’s ‘high water,’” Haynes said.

“So we really want to use our time and energy to counteract some of the negative comments that have been out there,” Haynes said, with the organizational goal of maintaining room nights levels and visitation.

Haynes touted Tourism Penticton’s “real-time” campaign to show “what it was really like in Penticton because we were finding the language of flooding and fires wasn’t true for us.”

Destination BC and Destination Canada started using the model for the real-time campaign, and the executive director Thom Tischik was nominated for a provincial tourism award for the project.

Videos played on a daily basis showed how people were interacting in Penticton, on tours and Haynes said the campaign was “enormously successful.”

Coun. Jake Kimberley brought up the issue of optics on crime in the city, also mentioning the media as partially to blame, but Haynes said Travel Penticton counteracts with positive reinforcement.

“It’s difficult to overcome those negative comments and media reports and of course they’ve got to do their job, but even so it brings a sort of negative view of the community,” Kimberley said.

Mayor John Vassilaki also suggested media created the perception the city was closed for business, noting he hears in the community that there are closures due to  “water problems, the floods and the smoke and all that.”

“The media doesn’t portray us as being open and business continues even better than before,” Vassilaki said.

The two per cent MRDT tax, commonly referred to as the hotel tax, surpassed Tourism Penticton’s projection by $1,650, collecting a total $591,650 as of Oct. 31, 2018.

Tourism Penticton asked for a budgeted $300,000 municipal contract of service with the city approved by the tourism board and projects $640,000 hotel tax revenue for this year.

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