It is Vernon’s opportunity to stake its own identity in the Okanagan tourism market, predicts Tourism Vernon’s five-year strategic plan.
Where Penticton was an iconic tourism destination in the 1970s through the ’90s, and Kelowna has become a focal point in the two decades since, the opportunity for the Vernon region to establish its tourism economic foundation on “small-town charm, laid-back lifestyle and a four seasons experience” is now emerging.
Breaking away from the tourism shadow cast by Vernon’s southern Okanagan neighbour cities, Torrie Silverthorn, city tourism services manager, says local hotels posting some of their best seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic bodes well for the city’s future.
“Vernon is coming into its own. Through the pandemic we performed incredibly well as a small to medium destination,” said Silverthorn. “Some of our hoteliers recording record-breaking months during the pandemic…that was not the case for a lot of communities.”
Silverthorn was joined by John Perrott, manager of economic developments and tourism, in making a presentation to the Regional District of North Okanagan board last Wednesday on the five-year strategic plan, having made the same presentation earlier to Vernon city council.
She is enthusiastic about Vernon’s time to “shine and stand out,” saying what the city lacks in amenities compared to a Vancouver or Kelowna, it makes up for in consumer comfort – shorter ski lift lines, less traffic, a more personal and authentic downtown shopping experience and some of the best outdoor trail hiking, kayaking and camping experiences in the province.
She said research studies have educated her and others to understand Vernon is not dependent on international or long-haul travelers to boost the local tourism industry.
“The majority of our tourism dollars come from B.C. and Alberta. We have known that for some time,” she explained.
“But where we are seeing a shift is in the short drive and short flight market…the short-haulers, with young families more likely to come to Vernon than any other tourist demographic.”
While from Kelowna stretching down to through the South Okanagan has adopted the wine industry as a major tourism draw, Silverthorn says outdoor recreation offers the same iconic tourism identity for Vernon.
“Our new mission or vision statement is we are the 365-day a year adventure capital of the Okanagan Valley. We have the best outdoor leisure lifestyle in the valley,” she said.
To help promote that message, Silverthorn acknowledged the City of Vernon has seen the need to invest beyond what the hotel tourism tax can fund for staff resources, which has led to the hiring of both her and Perrot.
“That support helps us to engage more on the tourism promotion side in a much bigger way,” she said, noting continuing to build on relationships with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and Destination BC as key partnering stakeholders.
Moving forward, Silverthorn said future tourism growth will have to be moderated in a sustainable and respectful way for Vernon residents.
“We are aware of the over-tourism that you see in places like Banff. We are aware of the need to grow tourism in a way that aligns and works with the longer-term growth goals of the community,” she said.
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