Sun Peaks Mountain Resort, north of Kamloops, is one of the top ski resorts in North America. The resort is now reaching for greater heights with a game-changing strategy focused on increasing its meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) business. Building on six decades of success growing its leisure travel market, Tourism Sun Peaks aims to boost the local economy through increased bookings in off-peak seasons to create year-round sustainable jobs.
Since Tod Mountain transitioned into Sun Peaks in 1993, Sun Peaks has transformed into a ski-in-ski-out mecca for skiing and snowboarding in the BC Interior. More than 4,000 acres of world-class terrain provides trails leading into a quaint European style village – home to nine hotels and more than 50 locally-owned shops and restaurants. In 2010, Sun Peaks incorporated as a Resort Municipality, and its health centre and public school serve almost 1,400 permanent residents.
Meetings and Conference Capacity Drives Growth
Sun Peaks, along with other tourism destinations around the world, experienced a decline in bookings and revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2021, hotel reservations were down more than 50%, and recovery will take time. Research by organizations such as Destination Canada, however, pointed to business events providing the strongest impetus for recovery.
In August 2020, the Sun Peaks Centre opened. This first-class multi-purpose venue added flexible indoor space for up to 350 people and a covered outdoor arena that can host 1,800 guests at events from May to October. These developments increased the indoor meeting capacity by nearly 40% over what was previously available at Sun Peaks hotels.
“With completion of the Sun Peaks Centre, the timing was right to evaluate opportunities and create a resort-wide strategy for growing this sector,” says Colin Brost, Sun Peaks’ Senior Director, Destination and Market Development.
Creation of this new plan also aligned with ETSI-BC’s strategic pillar of building economic capacity, and supporting key sectors such as tourism in smaller, rural communities. Tourism Sun Peaks received ETSI-BC funding to develop the plan with the assistance of Travel Local, specialists in tourism development planning.
Community Engagement Creates a Sense of Place
“Our research identified the opportunities created by focusing on resort-wide events and the importance of collaborating with Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality regarding the booking calendar,” says Brost. “This helped eliminate booking conflicts so that the community can use the arena and other event space without limiting opportunities for meetings and conferences.”
The importance of creating a “sense of place” was also identified. The Great Hall Indigenous installation at the Sun Peaks Centre, for example, is an outcome of the formal agreement between Sun Peaks Resort Municipality and the Little Shuswap Lake Band to work together on economic development opportunities. The Little Shuswap Lake Band also performed an intimate blessing ceremony to open the Centre, acknowledging the area’s significant Indigenous importance and Secwepemc history.
“We also wanted to create a better balance between meeting time and entertainment, “says Brost. “After your team wraps up an indoor work session, why not inject some exhilaration into the experience with an afternoon of mountain biking or a round of golf at 1,200 feet above sea level? Our marketing promotes everything Sun Peaks has to offer and allows local businesses to participate and realize the benefits of engaging this sector.”
By 2023/24, the initiatives in the plan are forecast to inject $1,000,000 in economic activity into the community, including the addition of five new businesses. Summer occupancy is targeted to reach 50% within three to five years.
“ETSI-BC has supported Sun Peaks in developing the resources to scale up significantly, by targeting meetings and events at the provincial and national level,” says Brost. “Every employee and the community as a whole will be positively impacted by this new strategy.”