Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association Regional Strategy

I have long wondered why our planning processes around tourism are often so short sited and so promotion focused when tourism is a powerful change agent that takes years to develop and requires the efforts of so many different stakeholders. Complexity is hard to deal with I guess...
But I have some hope going forward! While in Osoyoos this summer, I had the good fortune to hear about the 10 year regional strategy being put forward but the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).  I was so impressed, I told Glenn that I would make sure to write down my observations so that other destinations might be able to learn from their good work.

My graduate work focused on tourism planning, and from what I recall in terms of best practices - TOTA's efforts check off a lot of boxes... including:

  1. It is research based.  The plan is based on consultations, surveys, data on consumers travel behavior and regional assets.
  2. It is visitor centric. The research used profiles what consumers do and want vs. what those in the destination assume about visitors. It makes a conscious choice about which visitor markets best fit the types of experiences that are offered in the region.
  3. It recognizes complexity within the regions sub regions. Larger communities and rural areas and the unique nature of their products are incorporated AND there are obvious themes that connect the story and experience together for visitors.
  4. It emphasizes collaboration. This is not a TOTA plan, it is a regional destination development plan that recognizes the range of actors that are required to make it come alive.
  5. It is story based.  Instead of promoting distinct sectors within tourism, it recognizes that visitors have multiple interests in multiple communities and it connects the regions sense of place through stories.
  6. It is non sectoral and shows cross sectoral connections.  Agriculture, wineries, ranching are all connected to tourism through the product offerings which will strengthen the recognition of tourism as an economic and social agent.
  7. It focuses as much on developing and enhancing products as it does on promotion and marketing.
  8. It recognizes the power of tourism and its role in sustainability.
  9. It is forward thinking and long term.
  10. It is creative and it is innovative...
I commend those at TOTA for designing such an innovative process. Innovation is not an easy task - risk takers are likely to encounter resistance and nay sayers - but in my opinion, you are weaving together the threads of a very strong tapestry - a plan that, if people can commit to and monitor - should make the region an icon for BC for years to come.