Embracing Our Potential

A ten-year tourism strategy for the Thompson Okanagan Region

TOTA is now in its fifth year of implementing the 10-year strategy to grow the volume of new and returning visitors to the Thompson Okanagan region.

Key programs have been developed to support the implementation of the strategy, to truly embrace our potential.

We have increased the recognition of the area as a world-class destination across the globe. We will continue to do so, as well as increase awareness of the unique experiences that awaits our visitors year round — not just during the peak months of the year.

Regional Strategy Launch

Thompson Okanagan tourism stakeholders gathered at Sparking Hills for the launch of the tourism strategy.

Message from the CEO

The Thompson Okanagan is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. In 2010 tourism generated over $1.7 billion to the regional economy. We are attracting 3.5 million visitors per year, and tourism employs approximately 15,000 people in our region.

As impressive as these statistics are, there is a significant underlying concern with the seasonality of the industry, with parts of the region experiencing dramatic peaks in the summer months. Imagine creating an environment that inspires travellers to visit the region every month of the year. The increased economic impact would be dramatic.

Embracing Our Potential

The Thompson Okanagan Regional Tourism Strategy is a ten-year ‘road-map’ that will guide us in developing a successful year-round destination and an industry that:

  • Creates jobs;
  • Supports community development; and
  • Adheres to the underlying principles of economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

As the organization that facilitated the planning process, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) has worked with government partners and industry stakeholders throughout the region to determine and present on behalf of everyone involved, this landmark tourism document.

Embracing Our Potential is an industry-led strategy that demonstrates how we can create exceptional visitor experiences that will expand our region’s tourism success beyond the peak season. A key underlying objective to this strategy is to encourage partnerships within the industry, and to work in an integrated way to embrace opportunities for growth in a manner that benefits all partners and increases the year-round strength of the Thompson Okanagan as a destination.

I am pleased to put forward this new regional tourism strategy for the Thompson Okanagan. Working together we can build a stronger tourism industry, we can achieve a new vision for our region, and we can create exceptional and world-class experiences for our visitors.

Thank you,

Glenn W. Mandziuk, BA, MEDes, MCIP
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association

Region-wide support

As part of the consultation process during the Strategy draft phase, over 30 presentations were made throughout region. Following these presentations and feedback, TOTA received letters of endorsement confirming that ALL locally-based leading agencies involved in the advancement of tourism in the Thompson Okanagan Region (representing nearly 90 communities and hamlets and the tourism products of 28 First Nation Bands) support the vision and approach of the Regional Strategy. This is exciting progress, and positions the region well for moving forward in the growth and development of tourism.


Tourism has become a primary economic driver throughout the Thompson Okanagan Region.  In 2010 the industry generated over $1.7 billion for the Regional economy, and growth in room revenue over the past ten years has outpaced the provincial average.

Building on this success and making sure that tourism in the Region can continue to thrive in increasingly competitive times is a challenge. Looking ahead, it is important that the industry creates a strategic framework that will guide its ongoing development and ensure that the benefits are felt throughout the Thompson Okanagan. Identifying a common vision and ways in which businesses and communities can work together on strategic regional objectives will act as a catalyst and will strengthen the Region overall and the destination experiences within the Region.

With TOTA’s regional mandate, Industry Services is facilitating the planning process that will result in a 10-year Regional Tourism Strategy. The outcome will be an industry strategy that is based on input from operators, communities and a wide range of tourism related organizations.  Dr. Roger Carter from TEAM Tourism in the UK is assisting TOTA with the project.

The Planning Process

The process has involved the following steps to date:

  • Establishment of an advisory Steering Committee
  • Extensive desk research
  • Five sub-regional workshops and one sector workshop attended by 200 stakeholders
  • Site visits and interviews
  • A regional workshop involving 30 national, provincial and regional stakeholders to review proposed strategic priorities
  • An overview presentation of the draft Regional Strategy at the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Summit in November

The following outline presents the key elements of the draft Strategy. This is now being refined in preparation for a further stage of consultation. It is anticipated that the Strategy will be released in the spring.Regional Strategy Display

Our Research and Consultations — What we found


  • Weather
  • Scenery
  • Accessible & uncongested
  • Valley playground
  • Distinctive rural experiences / nostalgia
  • Local flavours
  • Festivals — strong artistic base
  • Indigenous product
  • Urban facilities
  • Proximity to urban markets


  • Seasonality
  • Limited internal public transport
  • In-Region path to purchase / packaging
  • Sub-regional recreational land-use planning
  • Trail/back country issues
  • Multiplicity of marketing messages
  • Labour issues & business succession planning
  • Lack of storytelling and theming
  • Limited economic data


  • Growth trends — affluent retirees, global middle class, interest in health & sustainability, ecotourism, learning experiences
  • Potential new BC markets — ESL sector, new ethnic populations
  • Rail access
  • Storytelling
  • Expand examples of good practice — Shuswap trails
  • Festivals & events — shoulder season
  • Further develop niche product (e.g. hang gliding), outdoor sport tourism, long distance trails and hut-to-hut


  • Fears of economic recession
  • Greater degree of price sensitivity
  • Rising fuel prices and travel costs
  • Increased competition
  • Tighter visa regulations and border controls
  • Increased environmental crises
  • Canada is not highly recognized as a destination for many of the Region’s emerging products
  • Urban markets have an increasing disconnect with the outdoors

PURPOSE: To provide a framework for stakeholders to work together toward a shared vision and common goals.

Our Vision and Framework for Growth

VISION for the 10-Year Strategy

The Thompson Okanagan will be a highly successful all-year-round destination, with a strong and attractive image that is clearly differentiated from its competitors. The region will be well known for the authenticity of its tourism offers and the cultural and environmental richness and diversity of the areas within it. The industry will be recognized for its commitment to work together to strengthen tourism for the benefit of all.


Achieve the target of 3% growth in revenue per year throughout the Region and in each sub-region/Regional District.

Our Markets

Geographic Markets: North America

  • British Columbia / Lower Mainland
  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan
  • Ontario
  • Western USA

Geographic Markets: International

  • United Kingdom
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • (Emerging & secondary markets — China, Korea, India, Brazil)

EQ Segments: Free Spirits


40% 18-34, over ? have young children, FT/students, higher than av. income, av. education

Social Values

Extrovert, driven, open-minded, fun-loving, spontaneous, adventurous

Travel Values

Luxury, checklist samplers, indulgent, fun/exciting travel with some learning, bragging experiences, escapism, appreciation of nature

Travel Activity

Snowmobiling, skiing/snowboarding, shopping — gourmet retail, casinos, sun bathing, water-based activities, hang gliding, kayaking, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, visiting national/provincial parks, attending festivals. Accommodation — health/resort spa, waterfront resort — preference for status, brands, novelty & creativity

EQ Segments: Authentic Experiencers


53% 55+, higher than av. retired, av. income, higher than av. education

Social Values

Eco & well-being conscious, ethical, independent, more reserved, open-minded, care little about brands

Travel Values

Cultural immersion, historical travel, away from crowds, unstructured travel

Travel Activity

Multi-day touring in a car, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, educational tours, historic sites, national/provincial parks, natural wonders, interpretive centres, meeting locals, visiting small towns.  Prefer modest accommodation — mountain resort, waterfront resort

EQ Segments: Cultural Explorers


All ages, mostly FT, av. income, higher than av. education

Social Values

Highly motivated, risk-takers, spontaneous, creative, socially responsible, easy-going, not highly materialistic

Travel Values

Off the beaten track, local connections, unstructured travel, historical travel

Travel Activity

Interacting with locals, historic sites, multicultural experiences, national/ provincial parks, interpretive centres, natural wonders, hands on learning, small towns, dining at restaurants offering local ingredients, farmers’ markets, local crafts. Prefer modest accommodation — wilderness lodge, farm stays, B&B

Our Regional Priorities

Focusing on Experience-Based Themes

Identifying the Iconic

  • Experiences that are memorable and worth ‘bragging about’
  • Signature landscapes
  • Builds recognition for the Thompson Okanagan as a distinctive Region

Enriching local flavours

  • Exceptional ingredients: scenic landscape, weather, unique wineries, award winning wines, breweries & distilleries, organic farming & local produce, chefs committed to developing regional cuisine and ‘field to table’
  • Captures the essence of the Region — creates intimacy and romance
  • Strengthens associated sectors and spreads economic benefits

Revealing the story

  • The Region has many untold ‘stories’
  • Learning & absorbing history and contemporary culture is a key travel motivator
  • Stories create an emotional connection with the destination
  • Themes can ‘move’ visitors around the Region
  • Numerous opportunities to tell stories through signage, technology, events and publications

Expanding personal horizons

  • Learners make up 35% of the global market — they are looking for unique and interactive opportunities to learn while connecting with locals in an authentic manner
  • Developing new learning experiences will strengthen shoulder season business
  • Areas to build on: sports and outdoor recreational activities, the arts, culinary and wine appreciation disciplines, Indigenous cultural learning experiences, self-discovery and wellness, professional development

Building authenticity

  • Involves helping visitors understand how the Region differs from their own in terms of culture, heritage, history and identity
  • Requires developing a strong ‘sense of place’ through creating opportunities to connect with locals, appropriate land-use planning and beautification, signage & interpretation, good access to off-road experiences, and strengthening festivals and events that reflect the personality of the Region

Our Process and Priorities for Moving Forward

Using the Regional experience-based themes to strengthen our identity and our approach to strategic planning

Working with small task forces on strategies related to events, Indigenous cultural tourism, trails, interpretation, visitor services & IT.

Creating a framework for the development of sub-regional Tourism Development Plans in partnership with Tourism BC.

Identifying and supporting flagship projects that will highlight the distinctiveness of the Region and create new business.

Building momentum through collaboration

Working together to deliver regional supporting programs:

  • Realigning the message with the emphasis on the ‘experiential’
  • Developing IT solutions to give the Region a competitive edge
  • Working in partnership to track performance
  • Building leading-edge knowledge for businesses

… to reduce seasonality

Maintaining industry-led direction through

  • A steering committee that will oversee progress
  • Special task forces on regional action plans
  • Collaborative planning with local stakeholders at the sub-regional level

Committing to long-term sustainability through a Sustainable Tourism Charter

“This work will go a long way in helping the Canadian Tourism Commission develop and market unique destinations and experiences and will contribute to Canada’s international tourism competitiveness.”

— Greg Klassen, Senior Vice- President, Canadian Tourism Commission