Help for tourism in south

Chelsea Powrie

The federal Minister of Tourism Melanie Joly stopped by for lunch and a speech in Penticton Thursday, touting the benefits of the new $58.5 million Canadian Experiences Fund for the South Okanagan tourism industry. 

"We want to make sure that Canadians and international visitors get to see these hidden gems that we have all across the country," Joly told media ahead of a scheduled luncheon hosted by the Penticton Chamber of Commerce. 

Investments from the fund will focus on businesses and projects in winter and shoulder seasons, indigenous tourism, LGBTQ2 projects, rural and remote communities and farm-to-table businesses. 

Of those categories, a few stuck out to Joly for this area. 

"When I think about Penticton and the South Okanagan region, I think about the farm-to-table experiences. That's definitely a priority through our fund," Joly said. "The other thing is anything in line with rural regions can have access to this fund."

An ongoing problem for the area is labour shortages due to the seasonality of the tourism industry. Joly said the fund will help encourage southern communities to boost their attractiveness to visitors year-round. 

"We want people to think about having a career in the tourism sector," she said. "And we need to have more seniors that want to continue to work, to not be penalized because they continue to work in the hospitality sector."

While tourism in the South Okanagan is currently fuelled mostly by visitors from around B.C. and western Canada, Joly wants to see that change. She said the idea is to create "destinations" in pockets all around the nation that appeal to Canadians and international visitors alike.

"We just invested $5 million in a new advertising campaign to make sure that Canadians get to see their country," Joly said. "Definitely the South Okanagan can benefit from that vision."

Part of an ongoing goal for the tourism ministry is educating people outside the Okanagan about the region. Joly used natural disasters as an example. 

"People don't necessarily know the difference between Penticton, the South Okanagan, the North Okanagan, and sometimes when forest fires can happen, [they] can be 100 kilometres from this destination here," Joly said. "So definitely it would be great if Destination Canada and Destination BC could work together to make sure that Canadians and international visitors know more about the destination and be better informed."

When asked whether she thought the proposed national park in the South Okanagan, which has been highly contentious, was a good idea for tourism, she was vague. 

"Any good investments in infrastructure would be relevant. Now, if the community has a plan for a national park, we're always willing to listen," Joly said. 

Joly was in Vernon earlier Thursday discussing the new funding and will complete her day in Vancouver at the B.C. Chamber for Commerce doing the same. 

Tourism businesses and projects in the South Okanagan can find out more about applying for the funding from the Canadian Experiences Fund through Western Economic Diversification Canada

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