The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) is encouraging local businesses, organizations, and destination marketing organizations to get the message out that the region is open for business.
It also supports the idea of asking the provincial government to find a term other than “state of emergency” to use in the event that support is needed because of wildifres, floods, and more.
“It’s again been a very challenging summer in many parts of the province,” says Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice-president of destination and industry development at TOTA. “We’ve had mudslides, fires, smoke, road closures. We’re encouraging people to take pictures outside when it’s not smoky, and report on things to do inside when it is, so people know there’s still lots to do here.
“Kelowna, for example, has seen a big increase in the number of people taking part in indoor sports.”
She says that there has been a significant impact on tourism in the province, with many domestic visitors (from Canada and the United States) deciding not to come to B.C. or to shorten their stay here. She adds that they have also been receiving a lot of phone calls from international tourists who wonder if it’s safe to come to B.C. and have been asking whether they need to change their travel plans.
“Absolutely, people aren’t coming. We’re putting emergency funding together for a fall campaign, in addition to what we’d already planned. We’re making an extra push in all the communities that have been affected. It’s in the planning stages now.
“[A similar campaign] helped last year. Some businesses couldn’t get back, but the ones that did benefited from that push.”
TOTA “actively supports” an initiative of the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA), which at a board meeting last week resolved to approach the Ministry of Tourism and ask that the province look at changing the term “state of emergency” into something less ominous-sounding.
“We support the idea of something less dire than ‘state of emergency’,” says Walker-Matthews. “Is that the right terminology to be used for consumers? We’d like to see a different phrase used, and get the term changed to make it not so dramatic.
“It conjures up a frightening situation that isn’t conducive to a good holiday.
“Or could we at least get a heads-up when the government is going to issue a state of emergency? That would help us have a message ready to go out. The most recent state of emergency [announcement] caught us all off-guard.”
She says that putting out pictures in real time showing no smoke, or people having a good time, helps combat misinformation. “We need to get the message out that we’re open.”
Walker-Matthews says that she hopes that businesses in the Ashcroft-Cache Creek area take advantage of the Remarkable Experiences program, which TOTA is offering in this area for the first time.
The free program takes place over four days in October and November (pushed back from September and October), with two days focused on Experience Design and two days focused on Digital and Social Media Marketing. Participaants need to commit to attending all four sessions.
The hands-on workshops provide tools to help businesses elevate their product, visitor experience, and online presence, and also includes 1.5 hours of personalized coaching, workbooks and resources, and a digital assessment of each participating business’s social media channels and website.
Funding for wildfire-affected businesses has been made available through the Community Futures Wildfire Business Transition program on a first-come-first-serve basis, and eligible businesses are encouraged to apply as soon as possible to take advantage of this opportunity. Only 30 spots are available, and participants must commit to the entire program.