$58.5 million fund to help Okanagan, tourism minister says
By Dale Boyd
A new federal fund is looking to support tourism in destinations outside of Canada’s major cities, including the South Okanagan, according to the federal tourism minister.
Mélanie Joly, Tourism, Official Languages and Francophonie Minister, visited Penticton to talk to tourism officials at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre Thursday.
“The idea is actually to support great tourism workers who are in Penticton and in the Okanagan region,” Joly said.
The federal government announced a “Canadian Experiences” fund of $58.5 million over two years to help improve tourism efforts across Canada and create 54,000 new jobs by 2025.
The fund is designed to focus on growing “shoulder season” tourism in seasonal spots like the Okanagan, diversifying local economies and creating LGBTQ and indigenous experiences
“When I think about Penticton and the South Okanagan region I think about farm-to-table experiences. That’s definitely a priority through our Canadian Experiences fund. The other thing is anything in line with rural regions can have access to this fund,” Joly said.
For areas like the South Okanagan and Osoyoos, getting visitors year-round is one of the efforts the funding will focus on.
“We want to boost tourism year long, so not only in summer seasons but also throughout the year, and not only in our three big cities, which are Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, we want to make sure that Canadians and international visitors get to see these hidden gems that we have all across the country,” Joly said.
Creating tourism destinations outside of the largest Canadian cities can lead to further private investment in sectors like infrastructure, Joly said.
“Potentially also more public investment in general. Then you can create a bigger destination that will drive people to it, and that’s our vision,” Joly said.
The federal funding initiative will also look to bolster and add to the 1.8 million workers in the sector.
“We want people to think about having a career in the tourism sector,” Joly said.
She said new measures have been added to the last budget to assist students, seniors and international visa applicants to address labour shortages in tourism-based economies.
Tourism vs. Media
Okanagan tourism organizations have called out media outlets on the provincial and national level for their coverage of flooding and fires throughout the Okanagan region in recent months, blaming press coverage for tourism number dips.
At Tuesday’s committee of the whole, Osoyoos Coun. Brian Harvey said at the Destination Osoyoos open house last week the topic of the wildfire 12 kilometers outside of town came up.
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“The key item over there that took away was coverage of national disasters in particular fire. So for example there was a fire up on Richter Pass a couple weeks ago, smoke went North, but it was out within a few days, but one report I saw … it gets sensationalized generally in the press. Current press excluded,” Harvey laughed, noting local media in the room. “And it causes people to call the local resorts and cancel, or to call the wine tour that they booked and cancel because of what they read in the press. And it’s very incomplete information.”
Harvey said tourism organizations and local business are now working to get the “true story out,” instead of the “sensational one.”
As the top tourism official in the country, Joly did not condone or disagree with the strategy of blaming tourism numbers on media reports of natural disasters.
“In terms of the media, the media are independent and they cover natural disasters and they cover news, in general I think that there (is) more to be told regarding the regions in order for Canadians and international visitors to understand the different parts of the region,” Joly said. “People don’t necessarily know the difference between Penticton and the South Okanagan, the North Okanagan and when sometimes forest fires can happen which can be 100 kilometers from this destination here.”
Destination Canada and Destination BC could work together to help travellers and visitors “be better informed, and therefore afterwards it is up to the media to do its own job,” Joly said.
“Of course public trust must be in favour of media, we believe media play an important role in making sure we are living in a free and democratic society,” Joly said. “Then it’s up to journalists to make their own choice in what they cover as the news. It’s up to them to present facts, afterwards it is up to citizens to decide what they think.”
Joly mentioned record tourism numbers in her speech congratulating local tourism workers at the Trade and Convention Centre.
During an interview with local media she did not address whether the media should be blamed for apparent dips in visitors purported by local organizations. However, she noted the tourism sector was “booming in Canada,” in her speech to tourism workers.
“Last year we had a record year, 21.1 million tourists came to Canada,” she said.
“The biggest issue with the tourism sector right now is that sometimes it’s taken for granted. Sometimes it is snobbed by a certain elite, and it was certainly snobbed in Ottawa. It is seen as an industry that will take care of itself,” Joly said to media prior to her speech. “The reality is, it is a sector that is booming around the world.”