Tourism Management Plan helps drive growth in the South Kootenays

In the South Kootenay region of BC, a new Tourism Management Plan promises to boost the economy as the area’s tourism reputation grows, and more visitors, residents and businesses are attracted to the area.

Five communities make up the South Kootenay region, each with its own character, history and demographics:

  • Trail, long known as the business hub of the region, is also a centre for championship hockey, and the vast Columbia Gorge offers world-class fishing all year long. 
  • Fruitvale offers lush vegetation, farming and a country town feel.
  • Rossland boasts one of the largest ski resorts in western Canada.
  • The villages of Warfield and Montrose are well-known for their access to nature and outdoor recreation.

All the communities of the South Kootenay region share the desire to strengthen their brands and build their tourism products and experiences.

Regional Collaboration Vital to Project’s Success

When the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce applied to the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) to support the development of a Tourism Management Plan, the project was a natural fit for its Building Economic Development Capacity funding stream. This funding is directed at smaller, rural and First Nations communities that also demonstrate strong regional collaboration.

“Before this project, the Chamber was only dabbling in tourism, resulting in fragmented visitor experiences,” says Erika Krest, Executive Director of the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce. “For a long time, the goal was to increase the number of visitors coming into the region. Now it’s about what we need to do to extend the length of their stay.”

Research is Key

Phase 1 of the three-phase plan resulted in a Situational Analysis completed in the spring of 2023.  The work was conducted in partnership with Selkirk Innovates, the research arm of Selkirk College. Over 100 business owners and managers participated in one-on-one interviews, surveys and focus groups, providing an understanding of tourism products and experiences.  “We were surprised at the large number of participants for a region as small as the South Kootenays,” says Krest.

Selkirk College was an obvious partner to conduct the survey as it specializes in rural and economic development research.  The Selkirk team provided expertise in data collection methods, stakeholder engagement, analysis of existing tourism strategies, and planning to keep the project on track. 

“Research like this provides sound methodology and reliable evidence needed to create the tourism management strategy,” says Tracey Harvey, Instructor and Faculty Researcher at Selkirk College. “It was tailor-made for the local communities, groups, businesses and governments, and was based on their needs, wants and capabilities.”

Assessing the Existing Tourism Landscape

By looking at tourism through an economic development lens, the process explored how current visitors perceive the region, and identified strengths and weaknesses of the tourism sector. 

Challenges identified include limited transportation access to the region, inconsistent service and operating hours, and lack of signage. The research uncovered that the area would benefit from a signature event and more strategic, targeted marketing provided through a destination marketing organization (DMO).

Opportunities were identified to increase visitor volume in non-peak seasons, providing packaged visitor experiences for all types of travellers, and a one-stop resource for information such a regional website. Infrastructure development opportunities, including more parks and a marine campground, were also identified to help grow the sector.

“By demonstrating the active link between tourism and economic development, this project will support economic sustainability, diversification and job creation and retention while fostering business resilience and growth in the South Kootenays,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of ETSI-BC. “We’re pleased to have supported this important initiative to help the Lower Columbia plan for its tourism future.”

The Tourism Management Plan is expected to be completed in early 2024.

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