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Reactions to new tourism centre location

It was recently announced that the City of Kelowna had listened to complaints from citizens and was changing their tactic for the new information tourism centre.

Originally, their plans saw the new building being erected in City Park, which was met with a less than happy response.

Well their new idea that would see the building relocated to a waterfront site at the foot of Queensway between Stuart and Kerry parks.

Since we posted this information yesterday our inbox has been flooded with both praise and nays for the idea.

Most of the negativity of the new proposal surround the lack of parking that is already perceived to be an issue in the downtown core.

Keith Manhard thinks the tourist centre should be somewhere that is more accessible by car.

“I would think that a Tourist Centre should be where the tourists can see it...without having to wander around places that are hidden down some obscure area that makes it difficult to get to hauling a trailer or Motor home,” says Manhard.

Todd reiterates this sentiment writing, “we do not need any more downtown parking spaces removed, especially after the beautiful Bernard renovation took away so many. We also do not need a building blocking the huge flow of people that walk through that parking lot during the many festivals held in our city.”

Scott also makes a jab at the parking situation writing, “Ah the good old city, removing more parking downtown. Are you guys crazy?? You already screwed up on Bernard."

However the Tourism Kelowna and other local tourist experts have nothing but praise for the idea, saying that today's tourist does not need somewhere to pull up in their motor home, as they come to town prepared. They've researched and done their work already and will only visit if it's by foot and already in their path.

Tourism Kelowna says in a press release that other cities have followed this model with success.

“Data shows that communities are doing their utmost to position their Visitor Centres where tourists congregate and where pedestrians can access them while exploring the community in order to provide the best service possible to guests. Several communities in BC have already done this and show impressive increases in usage and effectiveness of their downtown Visitor Centres.”

And this is critical for Kelowna, as visitors to our city spend $279 million annually.

Locals in the business agree with Tourism Kelowna saying their research shows a downtown pedestrian friendly location is key.

Nathan Flavel with the Kelowna Actors Studio wrote into Castanet to share his approval of the new location.

“Tourism centres aren't the ones you remember from the summers of the past as you drove through the province with your motorhome stopping at each city to find out where the best restaurants, fruit stands, beaches or camping sites were,” he writes.

“Today's tourism centre is positioned in high foot traffic locations. No one drives in anymore. Tour busses don't stop at visitor centres. They go directly to the attractions they have arranged to do so. Today's individual tourist finds a visitor centre on foot.”

He adds that he believes this new location is the best spot to showcase the waterfront and boardwalk while getting the most foot traffic.

R. Michael Wynne who has been General Manager of the Holiday Inn Express Kelowna Conference Centre for over two decades feels the same way, saying he wholeheartedly supports the new location.

“In my opinion, the current highway location is totally out-dated and inadequate in terms of location and appearance and this new option seems like it would be an ideal spot,” he writes.

“Technological changes such as GPS have radically changed the landscape and this, in turn, has necessitated a revision of what works and what does not work. To that end, Visitor Information Centres need to change with the times if they are to stay relevant and to accomplish what they are intended to do, namely to dispense information to as many visitors as possible and to hopefully encourage those same visitors to extend their stay in that region.”

Tourim Kelowna is also hoping to clear up some concerns by responding to the questions they've received most often; Their responses are available below.

1) Aren’t Visitor Centres best located on the highway?

With the advent of GPS and other way-finding technologies the number of vehicle-oriented visitors utilizing highway Visitor Centres throughout North America, including Kelowna, is declining rapidly as there is no longer as strong a demand for directional services from tourists. As a result of this change in Visitor Centre usage patterns, the Visitor Centre business model has had to adapt. The statistics clearly demonstrate this and several BC Visitor Centres, including Richmond, Prince George and most recently Vernon have or are in the process of relocating.

A successful Visitor Centre must be accessible to large volumes of tourists at the point in their vacation when they are beginning their exploration of Kelowna, and for most, this begins in downtown Kelowna along the waterfront.

It is at this moment when a Visitor Centre provides a warm welcome to our guests and can attract and influence a much greater number of visitors to see more, stay longer and spend more in our community than could be done at the highway location. This is why 78% of Visitor Centres in comparable North American destinations are now located in their main tourist district and/or downtown core where they can be accessed by large volumes of tourist

2) What size of building are we talking about?

The size of the building has not been confirmed however the size proposed by Tourism Kelowna is approximately 5000 square feet which is in-keeping with average sizes of Visitor Centres in the US and Canada for destinations of similar size and budget. This is according to the “2013 Visitor Information Centres Study” conducted by Destination Marketing Association International where the average size of Visitor Centres in this category was 5,486 square

3) Would we be losing access to the lakefront?

Actually, lakefront access will be improved for residents and tourists. The waterfront walking path currently cuts through the parking lot. It will now be constructed around the lakefront side of the building increasing the amount of waterfront pathway and will improve the connectivity between Stuart Park and the Marina area with a more scenic route. The proposed building will be no more than 2 stories and will be built in a manner that compliments the surrounding buildings. Remember that we are talking about a building that will serve as the “face” of Kelowna – it will be a facility for residents to be proud of and to represent what is beautiful about Kelowna.

4) What if people on the highway can’t find the Visitor Centre?

This will indeed be a challenge however fewer and fewer tourists are seeking out Visitor Centres while they are driving into or through a destination. This is why our user numbers are dropping so rapidly, to the point where within a few years, a highway location will be completely obsolete. This is also why a new highway location is not the answer. We will ensure good signage along the highway to offset this issue.

5) Won’t this mean that we are losing parking spaces downtown?

There may be a loss of downtown parking due to the building of this centre but the extent of this is unknown at this point. The proposed area currently has 21 parking stalls.

6) Will this clog our downtown with tour buses?

Tour buses have pre-set itineraries and do not stop at the Kelowna Visitor Centre for information.

7) Will this clog our downtown with RVs?

The likelihood of increased RV traffic downtown is minimal since the current Vistior Centre services only a modest RV clientele. 2 RV pull-through parking spots are currently available and it is rare that both spots are used at the same time during the peak season. RVs currently park in the City Park and explore from there (500 m from parking lot to Queensway Jetty). Placing a Visitor Centre at the Queensway Jetty parking lot is not expected to have any significant impact on convenience for RV’ers

8) What benefit is a Visitor Centre to local residents and the downtown?

A downtown Visitor Centre would play a direct role in increasing the safety of downtown pedestrians year-round because it brings people to the area, which creates higher levels of utilization. Busier neighborhoods are known to be safer neighborhoods. A Visitor Centre is open year round providing more eyes in the area during the daytime hours, which inhibits unwanted activities.

Kelowna needs a Visitor Centre that will showcase the destination to the best of our abilities. Many livelihoods are dependent on tourism in Kelowna. This is the quintessential civic facility in that it benefits the community as a whole. The outcome will be longer visitor stays, increased customers to all businesses that rely on tourism, and positive referrals and repeat visitation.

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