Kathleen Kinasewich

Community tourism encourages use of technology

Local residents with an interest in tourism were thrilled with TOTA's Community Tourism Workshop in Merritt.

Kathleen Kinasewich, of Sage Hills Herbals in Spences Bridge; Steve Rice, Director of the TNRD,  Spences Bridge; Terry Hadwin, from Gold Country Tourism of Cache Creek; and Tracey Knihnitski, Independent Contractor, of Ashcroft, attended the Community Tourism Workshop in Merritt on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

The workshop, with 42 people in attendance, was an introduction to a pilot project hosted by Tourism British Columbia, part of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training in partnership with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA). The all-day workshop consisted mostly of tourism development planning and marketing brainstorming.

Data showed that at least six per cent of a community’s total income comes from tourism, and having effective marketing tools were essential to raising curiosity and enticing tourists to come.

TOTA explained the Explorer Quotient (EQ) and stated that there are essentially three types of tourists: the free spirits, the cultural explorers, and the authentic experience seekers. EQ refers to the emotional experience of the tourist and in order to attract visitors it is essential to understand what motivates people to travel, how they travel, and what is it they like to do.

Every community has its own personality! The trick is to find the words/images/feelings to describe the experience one gets from visiting our unique communities.

TOTA stressed the importance of strategy before promotion. It was suggested that each community:

1. Invite curiosity. Feature unique icons, local flavours, stories, personal horizons, and authenticity of our communities. What’s memorable and worth bragging about in our communities. What separates us from other communities?

2. Re-assess brands about every three years to see if it still fits. The example was given regarding Merritt. Their brand from approximately five years ago had been focused on the country-western theme and the Merritt Mountain Music Festival. Five years later, this brand does not fit Merritt’s personality today and requires a change.

3. Use Social Media and Word of Mouth as “reputation management” tools. TOTA could not stress enough how important it is to get on board with social media. If money is a factor, a website, at the very least, was necessary to market our communities. One suggestion was to be sure the website matches the brand with stories, images, and feelings of what our community has to offer.

4. Move towards information accessibility. Signage and “Responsive Design” were key to getting information to the public. Responsive Design refers to the use of technology to include Smart Phones, Tablets, and other devices used to receive information easily. TOTA informed us that updating websites and materials is so imperative that some funders are refusing to invest in communities if they do not have these features.

The workshop was inspiring, informative and eye-opening! It left us wanting more!

For information, please check out the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association at www.totabc.org or www.HelloBC.com/tota.

Tracey Knihnitski

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