I have read a lot of letters published in your paper over the past month in regards to the relocation of the visitors centre and even though I don’t always agree with what the city does for the greater good, I’m fully behind this move as it not only makes sense from an economical point of view it also follows the latest trends within the hospitality industry.
I sit on the tourism advisory committee which is made up of representatives of various sectors of our industry. We have experience and knowledge not just in Vernon, but in other communities and understand how tourism marketing continues to change. We are business owners in this community and want what’s best for our industry. One of the most significant changes in tourism, is the way visitors seek information.
Gone are the days where everyone stops at a visitor centre. Nowadays, you simply turn on your mobile device and within seconds, you have your answers and with this trend becoming more dominant, it is important to adjust, especially in relation to the cost of operating hospitality services.
There are too many costs associated with operating multiple centres (not just money but management time to deal with operational issues, upkeep, supervising staff).
Tourism has a limited budget and limited resources and it is critical that we spend that money wisely to market our experiences and since the surge of smart phones and tablets with Internet connections, we are now competing for the visitor’s attention and retention on a totally different level.
Visitor counsellors are part of our marketing frontline and there is simply nothing better than seeing a smiling face when you walk through the door and then you get all of the info you need. But the number of walk-in visitors is declining every year and we have to re-tool as the number of visitors engaging with us online has increased dramatically. We must reallocate time and efforts to meet that new demand for online information and marketing. By operating one centre, we will get a better return on investment on our limited resources and this is very important as we are no longer just fighting for visitors locally, but globally.
Having a visitor centre in our city centre will encourage people to stop in the community and once they have stopped, it is so much easier to encourage them to stay for a while, walk to a restaurant, or visit our downtown. It is also going to be easier for guests who are staying in our hotels and motels to walk to the new centre as opposed to getting in their car and driving out of town (which up to now, they have had to do, and what tended to happen was that they ended up in Kelowna).
Centralizing the visitor centre has been identified since 2009 as a priority and over the years, we have looked at different locations. This location checks off most of the boxes. It’s a city-owned building, in the city centre area, has good parking, good access from both the highway and 27th Street and is close to amenities within walking distance, and this is very important as visitors enjoy getting out of their cars camera in hand as it is the best way to really see an area. The location is also identified in the OCP as future park, so the amenities around the location will evolve as the site evolves. It also has a sani-dump onsite and a pet area will be created.
A location in the city centre will be more likely to get people to stop and spend money in our community and we are not the only ones believing in this as Prince George, Tofino and Kelowna are all centralizing their visitor centre’s to be part of their city core as well.
Change is always a challenge and no one really knows how a change will turn out, but I truly believe this change is for the better and we should all embrace this city centre concept and together make it a success.
Claus Larsen, general manager
Best Westen Plus Vernon Lodge and Conference Centre