Snow is exotic.
That’s right. Although you may be dreading the arrival of the white stuff and its associated cold, limited daylight, high heating bills, shovelling and trouble driving, tourists will come to Canada in droves to play in the snow.
“We take it for granted, or maybe don’t even like it,” federal Minister of Tourism Melanie Joly told The Okanagan Weekend.
“But to others, especially those that may live in climates where they don’t get snow, access to our beautiful snow is desirable.”
Joly is in the Okanagan today to host a roundtable discussion from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Quails’ Gate Winery in West Kelowna and discuss what makes the Valley a tourist magnet, even in winter.
Around the table with the minister this morning will be brothers Ben and Tony Stewart of Quails’ Gate. Ben is also the BC Liberal MLA for Westside-Kelowna.
They’ll be joined by Aman Dosanj of food-and-event-planning business The Paisley Notebook, Darryl Brooker from Mission Hill Winery, Nancy Quinton of Okanagan Foodie Tours, Bernd Scales from 8th Generation Vineyard and Brenda Baptiste of Indigenous Tourism B.C.
The Okanagan is well-positioned as a winter destination with ample, dry and powdery snow making skiing and snowboarding at three major resorts — Big White near Kelowna, Silver Star near Vernon and Apex near Penticton — world class.
Where there is snow, there’s also likely to be cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and horse-drawn sleighs.
Even wineries, which are more of a draw in the spring, summer and fall, capitalize on winter with events like Light Up the Vines, with wineries on Summerland’s Bottleneck Drive illuminating their vineyards, and offering special tastings Nov. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 from 3 to 8 p.m.
Of course, summer is high tourism season in the Okanagan thanks to our mountain scenery, lakes and beaches, watersports, golf, wineries and warm weather.
This Okanagan stop is part of a cross-country tour Joly is leading to tout her ministry’s new Advisory Council on Jobs and the Visitor Economy and to talk about how Canada can grow its tourism industry.
The MP from Ahuntsic-Cartierville in Quebec launched the tour in Niagara Falls earlier this month and made her way across the country for roundtables in Vancouver and Victoria earlier this week and West Kelowna today before heading back to Montreal and more such events.
What prompted the council and tour is the fact Canada’s ranking on the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s top destinations has slipped from a high of No. 8 a few years ago to No. 17 this year.
“We used to have strength,” said Joly. “But the former (Conservative Stephen) Harper government cut funding to Destination Canada while other countries were upping their game.”
Destination Canada funding has been jacked up from $57.8 million in 2017-18 to $98.7 million for 2018-19, and the minister has served notice Ottawa is serious about helping the sector grow.
In 2017, during the Canada 150 sesquicentennial year, the country attracted an impressive 20.8 million overnight international visitors.
The tourist count so far this year is on track to beat 2017’s activity, a trend Joly wants to see continue.
This is Joly’s third trip to the Okanagan in two years.
When she was last here in the summer, she met with Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association CEO Glenn Mandziuk and was impressed with the group’s strategic plan to become a more sustainable tourist destination and the biggest economic engine in the region.
That plan is being realized with Biosphere International accreditation and tourism giving construction a run for the money as the largest economic sector, with 3.5 million visitors a year spending $2 billion annually.
Most international tourists to Canada use one of the country’s three biggest cities — Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — as a springboard to try other experiences ranging from watching the crashing water at Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains to eating lobster in Atlantic Canada and skiing or golfing in the Okanagan.