The Case for a New Visitor Centre in City Park

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!

Nancy Cameron

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.

Office Building:

  •  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



6 thoughts on “The Case for a New Visitor Centre in City Park

  1. Hi Nancy,

    I’ve cc’d Phil Johnson on this. I was only able to listen to part of his morning show yesterday and wasn’t able to call to get in my two cents.

    You need to get out to the public and make your case quickly, before the small interest groups (mainly the lawn bowling club) get all the media attention and sway public opinion away from this great project.

    To populate the park is the best way to keep the negative elements that linger in the park at a minimum. Having a presence like the tourism office with its staff and visitors is a great influence. It also gets tourists the right idea of what Kelowna is about.

    In my travels I’ve come across a number of people who’ve said to me, “yes, I’ve been to Kelowna, but it wasn’t that great”. On further prompting, I’ve found out that each of the people with that kind of attitude about Kelowna, had merely driven through Kelowna and had basically only seen the Harvey Avenue corridor, which I agree, is not that great!!! We need to work on getting potential visitors off the highway and getting them to see the parks and beaches. What better way to do that than to route them into our showpiece Kelowna City Park. It’s two blocks off the highway, but so much more inviting. Once tourists get hooked, they can spread out to enjoy the other fabulous sites that Kelowna has to offer – Knox Mountain, Wineries, Golf Courses, Art Galleries, Downtown, just to name a few.

    As for the lawn bowling club, they need to realize that the park should be for everyone, not just club members. I believe Kelowna should have a lawn bowling club, but there are much better places to locate it. Parkinson Rec Centre would be a good place to look into. Leave Kelowna City Park completely to a state where all citizens can participate in it without having to be members.


    Hans Birker Bohemian Cafe & Catering Co. 250-317-4243

    2013.07.30 14:49, Tourism Kelowna News Centre wrote: > > Nancy Cameron posted: “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 ” >

    • Hi Hans,
      Thanks so much for your support. You’ve hit the nail on the head and we hope that this prompts other businesses that recognize the importance of tourism to speak out, too.

  2. No no no no you have it all wrong. I agree we need a bigger more colourful visitors centre like the one in kamloops. On Harvey is best location. As far as getting people to see our beautiful city centre there should be located in same area as the visitor centre a mini train on wheels like they have in many european cities. For a nominal fee you get driven around all the key locations. Like a sight seeing trip to familiarize the tourists on what we have to offer. Leave the lawn bowlers alone leave the green space and trees for future generations to enjoy. The city park is only 32 acres .have the mini train go through the park that would be perfect!

  3. I have a few concerns regarding the proposed tourism office in City Park. First, it has been difficult to find an overview or visual plan of the park. I’m assuming this proposal is a plan to revitalize the entire park for a more user-friendly space, and not being able to visually see this is a hindrance. I don’t know how far into the park the proposed changes will be developed.
    To be fair, more has to be discussed. August is a busy time for most people. One writer on the Kelowna Tourism website urges council “to make the case quickly before small-interest groups sway public opinion and get media attention.” I take offense to this and am sure I’m not alone.
    Our public city park is the gem of our downtown core and its fate cannot be decided by a few business people. It is a park for everyone, and trying to push this through quickly without public input would be irresponsible and careless. My third-generation family has seen many changes in Kelowna, some good. But too many poor decisions are made without public input.
    The proposed location is problematic. First, it would require cutting down two acres of old-growth trees and erase the essence of what a park is all about at the very opening of it. Second and I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned, Abbott St from Leon to Bernard it a very busy congested area. Especially in the summer from June to August with pedestrians, kids, tourists, dogs, cars parking, making the loop around Bernard, and traffic on / off the bridge.
    Big tour buses, RVs, trucks and trailers will add to the congestion significantly not to mention having trouble maneuvering on and off that narrow portion of Abbott and in and out of the buildings parking lot. It seems like an accident waiting to happen
    Has anyone considered developing this on the oval? The parking is there and the current oval isn’t used much, possibly because Parkinson Rec Centre and the CNC are developed for outdoor sports. The existing road into the park could be improved along with parking and landscaping. Snow removal would be easier, and there would be much more room for large vehicles. The location would certainly entice people to explore further into the park and elsewhere downtown.
    Constance Bachmann

    • Hi Constance,

      Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to let us know your perspective. We appreciate it, and this process is certainly a public input process, so we also encourage you to let the City know as they are seeking input from the public. Here is a link to the City Park Concept Plan on the City of Kelowna website, so that you can review the visuals of the proposed redesign. Again, the City is encouraging feedback from the public, so please feel free to provide them with your thoughts.

      In response to your concerns regarding the removal of trees, our understanding is that the whole City Park plan is designed with the goal of no net loss of green space, and that this location on the edge of the park would in fact mitigate the need to remove trees. We absolutely agree with you that City Park is a gem of our downtown core, and all parties are interested in preserving its beauty.

      To reiterate, the current parking lot in City Park is already frequently utilized by RVs and cars pulling trailers. While much of the current parking lot would in fact be returned to green space and parking consolidated to the edge of the park under the proposed plan, we don’t see increased RV or trailer parking from our current situation, especially given that our current Visitor Centre in fact does not service large tour buses or even large amounts of RVs. In instances where tour buses are coming off the highway, parking is provided to buses on the outskirts of the downtown core, and access to the building would allow for passengers to disembark and buses to continue on and park in their designated locations.

      Thanks again for letting us know your thoughts and raising questions that we suspect are unknowns for others as well, and allowing for this dialogue to provide better information to citizens who wish to be fully informed.

  4. Hi..thanks for this opportunity… What we don’t need in City Park is more concrete. The recent additions including the skating surface and adjoining building are misplaced. By the time we complete the monster yacht club building, I’m afraid most people will be very sad about the loss of public space and loss of lake view. To add another big building would be sad indeed. The Tourist building belongs on the highway. It is fine right where it is with easy access and ample parking.

    I love the idea of a mini train touring downtown…. Please no more concrete in City Park…. Del

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