Columbia Valley’s Special Events Strategy Builds a Year-Round Destination

The Columbia Valley region hosts dozens of special events every year that enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors. From business meetings and conferences to vintage car shows, food festivals, baseball championships and concerts, diverse events take place across the region in the communities of Fairmont, Windermere, Invermere, Panorama and Radium Hot Springs.

Further developing the special events business is the focus of Columbia Valley Events, Growth, Preparedness & Strategy project, initiated by the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC). The strategy will draw more visitors to the region in the off seasons, build on the success of current events, and identify opportunities to attract new events.

“The pandemic prevented several regular events from happening, and we were concerned some wouldn’t return. We were also challenged by increased costs to hold events, a decline in travel, and the need to stay competitive as the event location of choice,” says Pete Bourke, Executive Director of the CVCC. “When COVID subsided and the sector started to come back, it was a good time to look at our event-related assets and develop fresh marketing strategies and tools.”

The Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) supported creation of the Columbia Valley Events Growth, Preparedness & Strategy to build capacity within the tourism sector. The CVCC, Kootenay Rockies Tourism, Tourism Radium, Travel Columbia Valley, and Community Futures East Kootenays also supported the plan.

Centralized Approach and One Stop Information

Initially, the project included hiring a full-time Events Coordinator as part of a centralized approach to growing the sector. “As we looked at what a full-time position would require, we realized greater capacity could be achieved through extra efforts by the CVCC and other tourism stakeholders in the Valley,” says Bourke.

A key component of the strategy is the new website, which is a one-stop shop for information on accommodation, restaurants, outdoor adventures, arts and culture, shopping, and other unique Columbia Valley experiences.

An event planning toolkit was also created to make it easier for event organizers to choose the Columbia Valley. Once the new website is fully built out, the tool kit will be integrated into the site and have its own webpage as well. A fresh photo collection has been created and will be continuously updated to enhance advertising to the established conference and retreat market.

Signature Events Combine with Value-Added Experiences

The CVCC also assisted nine signature events through an experience development program hosted by Destination BC and Travel Columbia Valley. Working with consulting firm Veneto Collaboratory, each business developed a story about what they offer to ensure a consistent and repeatable experience. “These experiences are integrated into event booking procedures, so if someone registers to run in a local race, for example, they have the option to add on a paint night or drumming experience,” explains Bourke.

Six events returned to the Valley in 2023 as the strategy rolled out. Among them is the Rocky Mountain Rally which marked its 50th anniversary in the area after a three-year absence. The Rally generated approximately $84,000 into the regional economy in the form of accommodation, food, and other spending by participating teams. “We’re already planning on coming back next year and beyond,” says Rocky Mountain Rally Chair, Keith Morrison.

Other returning events are the Nipika Loppet cross-country ski race, Invermere Snowflake Festival, Valley Appreciation Day, the Columbia Valley Classics Show and Shine, and Canal Days. New events attracted include the Radium Street Party, Radium Wildlife Festival, and the U14 Baseball provincial championships.

“Much of the success of this project is due to the high degree of collaboration among stakeholders to create a strong foundation to attract and retain great events,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of ETSI-BC. “As the momentum continues, the Columbia Valley will become a primary event destination.”

More News & Stories