Kayaking in the North Okanagan. (Tourism Vernon photo)

Kayaking in the North Okanagan. (Tourism Vernon photo)

Vernon holds steady in bleak year for Okanagan tourism sector

Tourism in Vernon has outperformed other Okanagan cities; council adopts 2021 strategy

As tourism associations across B.C. await Friday’s updates to public health restrictions on travel with bated breath, the Vernon Tourism Commission is reflecting on a year from hell, with a tentative eye to the future.

Claus Larsen, chairperson of the Tourism Commission, provided an update on the past year as well as Vernon Tourism’s target markets and strategies for the year to come.

“What a difference a year makes has never been more appropriate statement than right now,” Larsen said by way of introducing the commission’s annual presentation to council on Jan. 25.

The report to council was much different from the previous year before the pandemic disrupted plans to grow tourism industries everywhere and forced tourism associations into protection mode.

“When we last spoke a year ago I was telling you about the journey we have taken over the last seven years. Everything was finally lining up and looking like all the hard work we’ve put in was finally paying off. And then March 15 (2020) came around,” he said.

“I’ll never forget that date for a number of reasons. One of them being that that’s the day that travel and tourism literally stopped in its tracks.”

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The hotel and accommodation sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, but Larsen says Vernon’s accommodation businesses have done well compared to the rest of the Okanagan. Vernon accrued $21.6 million in overnight hotel revenue in 2020, down from $37 million in the previous year.

“This is considerably better than what can be said in other cities around the Okanagan; we’ve been one of the biggest success stories,” said Larsen, who attributed Vernon’s relatively strong hotel sector to quick action by local tourism operator in their pandemic response, as well as their “willingness to do the unknown… in order to get tourism here in a safe manner.”

Domestic travel to the Vernon area made up for much of the losses in international travel, Larsen said. In this regard, the reputation of Vernon’s surrounding areas as a “safe haven” was an asset at a time when Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders and recommendations have driven people to outdoor spaces.

“The main reason for our success in the summer is a combination of proximity to the big urban city centres (Vancouver, Calgary) and also our open spaces, fantastic outdoor amenities (and) activities.

Larsen said Destination BC is forecasting a bounce-back in international tourism “somewhere around 2024,” which is also when the Crown corporation expects tourism to return to 2019 levels.

With the city’s visitor centre closed in favour of a completely mobile business model, the Tourism Commission will save $150,000 that would normally go towards operating the brick-and-mortar centre.

That money could potentially be used to pursue Tourism Vernon’s 2021 tactical marketing strategy. Drafted in December and adopted by council on Jan. 25, the strategy takes aim at four “target markets”: leisure, visiting friends and relatives, Okanagan day-trippers and hyper-local or “staycations.”

“As a biking, hiking, skiing and golf sectors boom, promoting and developing Vernon as a mecca for outdoor experiences should be front and center in promotional efforts,” the plan states.

The strategy includes a number of tactics with which Tourism Vernon will promote these target markets. A total of $54,000 is allocated for digital marketing and website upgrades.

Forty-seven thousand dollars is billed for social media promotions, $75,000 for digital advertising, $18,000 for e-newsletters, $25,000 for content development (high-impact photography and video), $65,000 for media and print advertising and $30,000 for a printed official visitor guide, which will be relied upon more heavily this year during the closure of the physical visitor’s centre.

The full list of allocated funds in the 2021 plan can be found here.

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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