Tourism in the Columbia Valley is an eclectic bag filled with experiences like hot springs, zip lines, and golf courses, accommodations ranging from backcountry camping to high-scale hotels, businesses selling everything from pens to paddle boards, and restaurants ranging from greasy spoons to gourmet dining.
But collectively, the tourism industry in the Valley wants to offer a unified front to tourists coming to the area. Through support by Destination British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies division, the Valley underwent a series of discussions over the past year and a half to come up with a deliberate Valley-wide strategy, centred around the Valley’s vision: ‘The Columbia Valley is known as a place to unwind and relax, where travellers, keen to discover adventure, discover themselves.’
Through in-person sessions in April and June 2017, plus webinars and online surveys, Kootenay Rockies tourism assessed what tourism stakeholders would like to see happen in the Valley in regards to tourism over the next 10 years. That data was collected and presented in a meeting Monday, December 10th. About 50 people – representing large and small businesses, nonprofit groups and government – came to hear the draft development plan.
Emilie Cayer-Huard is an industry and destination development specialist with Kootenay Rockies Tourism. Ms. Cayer-Huard reported there was good engagement in the Valley on this project, and there is a lot of positive growth in Valley tourism initiatives already.
“There’s been great momentum in developing the Valley as a prime destination,” she said.
Suzanne Denbak was the Destination BC facilitator for the Columbia Valley, and she presented the Valley tourism plan at the meeting.
“Tonight really is a milestone to be able to come back to you and share,” Ms. Denback said. She highlighted the Valley’s key strengths, including the stunning scenery, great tourism infrastructure already in place, a growing depth of arts, culture and First Nations experiences, and authentic towns that stay true to themselves. Challenges she listed include transportation and access, continued need for Valley-wide collaboration, year-round staffing issues and the need to protect the environment.
“The environment, and protection of the environment, was important to you as values you hold dear to yourselves,” Ms. Denbak commented.
The four overarching goals for Columbia Valley tourism, Ms. Denbak
presented, include increasing shoulder season visitation, increasing the length of stay, providing year-round employment for tourism staff, and to become the most highly recommended destination in BC.
With the “wealth of input” from participants through the goal-setting process, Kootenay Rockies organized the responses into seven overarching themes, including: transportation, supporting the business community, protecting the natural environment, maintaining community character, developing quality amenities and infrastructure, maintaining existing experiences while supporting new ones, and working collaboratively. Within each theme, they have developed target goals. For example, under the theme of protecting the natural environment and managing tourism impacts, area stakeholders want to ensure a recreational land/water management plan is in place, there is sufficient measurement, monitoring and enforcement resources in place, to see a decreasing trend in user conflicts and in users/wildlife conflicts, and to ensure invasive species are prevented and mitigation strategies are in place.
Following Monday’s meeting, a working committee gathered Tuesday, December 11th to come up with some immediate projects to get the ball rolling. Kootenay Rockies will fulfil the role of project management with the Valley’s plan, but are looking to local stakeholders to take action on the list of priorities.
Ms. Cayer-Huard says for residents concerned about a destination development plan, she assures that this is a grassroots initiative, not top-down from the Province.
“That vision is really based on respecting community values and environmental sustainability,” says Ms. Cayer-Huard. “This is for developing tourism towards an agreed-upon vision by local stakeholders.”
The Columbia Valley’s tourism plan is part of a larger provincial initiative to drive tourism to the province. The province was divided into six large areas for regional strategies [we are part of the Kootenay Rockies strategy], further broken down into 20 planning area strategies, organized primarily by natural travel corridors.
“We need to be planning now to avoid over-visitation of the places that we love and cherish as residents of British Columbia and residents of the Columbia Valley,” said Jody Young, senior project advisor for Destination British Columbia at the stakeholder meeting. “We need to be attracting the right visitors for our province and educate them to be good stewards of our land and how to be respectful visitors … And looking forward, moving forward with a common vision so we’re providing that best visitor experience possible.”