By Nicole Trigg
A cutting-edge vision that strives to plant the Columbia Valley firmly on the international tourism map is beginning to take shape. The Columbia Cultural Tourism Association (CCTA) is the newest local group to come together and brainstorm ways to attract an even greater number of visitors to the region than ever before. At the CCTAs official launch that took place at Copper Point Resort on Thursday, May 23rd, Canadas leading specialist in the field of cultural tourism made a scintillating presentation to a room filled with over 70 invitees, and his message was clear.
What makes the Columbia Valley the Columbia Valley? Steven Thorne asked his audience. Mr. Thorne has been retained by the CCTA to do for the valley what he did for the Resort Municipality of Whistler following the 2010 Winter Olympics develop a cultural tourism marketing strategy based on a place-based approach.
Prompted by the Olympics, Whistler decided it needed to diversify its tourism offering, realizing it couldnt market the mountain alone, and opted to develop a place-based strategy over an attractions-based one, Mr. Thorne told the room.
Place-based tourism is a term he coined that refers to marketing an area as a distinct and unique cultural place as opposed to attractions-based tourism, which invites a visitor to experience certain cherry-picked attractions the region has to offer.
Its not that it doesnt work, he later told The Pioneer. Attractions-based tourism is the norm in North America. If were talking about cultural tourism, however, attractions-based tourism misses the most strategic asset that any destination has culturally, which is not its attractions: its its cultural character, its sense of place, what makes it unique, authentic and memorable, and what distinguishes it from any other destination.
Canadas tourism industry generates $78.8 billion in annual revenue and creates 603,000 direct and indirect jobs. Yet, while Canada is known for its scenery and nature-based experiences, it is not known as a cultural destination in the international tourism marketplace, said Mr. Thorne as part of his presentation. Nor does Canada prioritize cultural tourism, he added. As a result, it ranks 18th out of all countries in terms of international visitors, down from 7th place in 2002. A steep decline that is primarily due to loss of American visitors during the global recession, plus new passport restrictions and the high Canadian dollar, but our failure to market ourselves is a factor as well why arent we in the tourism cultural game? he asked.
By 2020, 83.5 million U.S. and Canadian baby boomers will be between the ages of 55 and 74, the largest, most affluent generation in history, and it will be in need of things to do. Boomers are driving the market for cultural tourism, said Mr. Thorne.
How can Canada grow its cultural tourism industry? More specifically, the Columbia Valley? he asked.
The key, he said, is to move away from the homogenized sameness of many cities and towns that have succumbed to strip malls and roadways peppered with signage. Cultural tourists are savvy and seek intellectual enticement; they want to experience a unique place, Mr. Thorne said. As there is only one Columbia Valley, that is its competitive advantage, and in the place-based cultural tourism approach, all the different types of tourism, from aboriginal to agricultural, are unified. He compared a destination to a tapestry, with lead (foreground) supporting (mid) and sustaining (background) experiences.
Culture is a web of inter connectivity, he said. Simply put, the place is the product.
Mr. Thorne and his company start this July and August with an inventory of the valleys cultural tourism experiences before conceptualizing a place-based tourism product for the development of a marketing plan.
There will be a lot more thats uncovered through the inventory process than there is in a typical attractions-based approach to cultural tourism, Mr. Thorn added.
CCTA director Pat Bavin said the association already has a long-term plan in place for 2016 for bringing Thornes strategy to the ground.
So that is our next main step, Bavin said. To take his information and build that into a marketing strategy as a product development group, and build relationships with marketing agencies, destination marketing organizations, the Province, then take that tapestry of place more globally.