Visitor Centres play a very important role within a tourism destination, a role that contributes directly to business success and economic impact, but also a role that is always evolving particularly as technology develops. The constant deliverables of a Visitor Centre though are:
- To convey sense of place
- To enhance guest experience and awareness of the breadth of activity options available
- To encourage longer stays and increased visitation to tourism businesses
- To create high visitor satisfaction levels that result in positive referrals and repeat visits
In 2006 Tourism Kelowna commissioned InterVistas Consulting to determine whether a new Visitor Centre was needed. The results of extensive stakeholder focus groups and meetings resoundingly supported the need to develop a new centre. In 2008 InterVistas Consulting developed the business plan and researched several site options, with a location in City Park being the top ranked location.
Over the past several years this project has undergone several changes but it gained traction this spring when it was included as an important amenity in the City’s proposed master plan for the redevelopment of City Park. Currently the City of Kelowna is seeking public input into this proposed City Park master plan which includes the construction of a new Park Pavilion that would house the Visitor Centre, Tourism Kelowna offices and programmable community space.
Below are some key points that explain the reasoning behind the location selection, our comments regarding some of the current perceived impacts, and a backgrounder on the project.
If the tourism businesses of Kelowna are in favour of having a new Visitor Centre located in City Park we ask that you make this known to City Councillors, the media and fellow business people very quickly.
Please do not hesitate to call me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. Our goal is to ensure that Kelowna’s tourism industry is well briefed on the case to place a Visitor Centre in City Park and demonstrates its support for it from the perspective of fully informed businesses and citizens. Read on for the details around why a Visitor Centre located in City Park would be beneficial to the tourism landscape in Kelowna. Thank you very much!
President & CEO
Synopsis as to why we want a new Visitor Centre in City Park:
- As technology advances GPS technology has become commonplace, and as become a dominant source of wayfinding, but there is still a very significant role for Visitor Centres to play in generating economic benefits for our community and tourism businesses – it’s just that the target audience has shifted.
- This is why the location of a Visitor Centre must be very strategically identified
- Location of a Visitor Centre in an area with a large number of pedestrians, in this case at the busiest attraction Kelowna has – City Park, is estimated to more than double the number of people utilizing the Visitor Centre currently
- Those using Visitor Centres will discover more to do in Kelowna than they had previously known and will go to more attractions, stay longer and have their expectations exceeded resulting in referrals to their friends.
- It’s a numbers game – An increase in the number of tourists using a Visitor Centre relates directly to increases of people entering tourist attractions, services and retail shops
- For visitors accessing the Centre from the highway – we welcome them into our destination with a WOW that shows off the destination in it’s best possible light (as opposed to a highway stop) and increases the likelihood that they will stay longer and enjoy our city more
- More visitors into the centre = more visitors spending at Kelowna’s tourism businesses = more successful businesses and tourism industry overall.
Green Space and Concrete:
- All parties, including Tourism Kelowna, have no desire to see a loss of green space and the park has been designed in this manner.
- Reclaiming the area where the old pavilion was located into park and erecting a replacement pavilion at the edge of the Park, where it has less impact on the park’s interior makes sense.
- City Park is our most recommended stop on any Visitor itinerary and so maintaining the integrity of the park environment is important to us.
Access and RV’s:
- The advantage of City Park is that it also allows for convenient access to tourists exiting off the highway
- The current parking lot in City Park is heavily utilized by RVs, and cars pulling trailers so access and utilization of the park by these users will not change.
- Our current Visitor Centre does not service large tour buses and we would not expect a significant change with the new proposed location. Tour buses may drop off their customers in front of the Centre but would park elsewhere.
- The very initial design of the building incorporates a Visitor Centre of 5000 sq ft, Tourism Kelowna offices of 4000 sq ft, City of Kelowna community space and a retail space of 7000 sq ft.
- It is Tourism Kelowna’s priority to locate a Visitor Centre in the proposed location
- The office spaces were included in order to improve operating efficiencies and to optimize the rent that Tourism Kelowna could pay to the City to offset the financing of the building
Desired Result of New Visitor Centre:
- Increase of visitation and spending with direct and indirect tourism businesses
Identified obstacles to optimizing the current location:
- Location only accessible to southbound vehicular traffic – no eastbound/northbound or pedestrian traffic representing a significant lost opportunity
- Current location does not represent Kelowna in a manner in-keeping with the quality of tourist experience – does not convey sense of place that results in positive impressions and stays
- Highway traffic is commonly utilizing GPS and apps to navigate through the destination and don’t utilize Visitor Centres for wayfinding as they have done in the past, so our opportunity to influence length of stay in Kelowna and experiencing more attractions lies with visitors already staying in Kelowna. This general trend in industry means that Visitor Centres are increasingly fulfilling a sales role, which is why you’ll see Visitor Centres in downtown locations in other cities such as Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa, and others. Our ability to sell Kelowna experiences to visitors therefore hinges on increasing pedestrian traffic into the Visitor Centre.
- Location must be at a point of a high visibility, heavy tourist pedestrian traffic but still accessible to highway traffic travelling in both directions if we are to optimize economic impact of tourism for tourist oriented businesses and supporting businesses – again, similar to Victoria’s Centre on the inner harbor and Vancouver’s across from the Convention Centre
- The current Centre’s small size inhibits our ability to communicate the destination message in manner that entices visitors to experience it fully
- Visitor Centre to be highly visible and a landmark that draws people in, located in a high pedestrian traffic area
- Centre communicates a clear sense of place accentuating the quality and diversity of the Kelowna destination and enticing visitors to discover more and visit more attractions and activities
- Visitor Centre to have good highway access from both directions through signage