Last week, the chamber had a luncheon, as reported in this paper last Sunday, with a guest speaker, Glenn Mandzuik, CEO of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).
Glenn’s talk centred largely on the concept of the “authentic experience” that many tourists seek. After the talk, there was a tourism industry meeting where once again the topic of the Vernon brand was raised.
A lively discussion took place where each person present expressed some idea or thought on Vernon. There were those who felt that family was an important part of Vernon, others the natural surroundings and water. Some talked of outdoor sports and recreation, and several others who really just loved Vernon because it’s just a cool place to live with a lively arts scene, funky downtown area, unique shops and lots of restaurants.
To me, I think it’s staring us in the face – Vernon is really the authentic Okanagan. Some of our neighbours might not agree completely, but when you look at the resort, industrial and commercial developments along with the other changes in communities south of us, Vernon is pretty close to the real thing.
By virtue of geography and historical development, not to mention a certain contrary Vernon attitude, this city and greater area has retained much of the flavour, look, lifestyle and the values of the Okanagan. And, this is the strongest attraction we have as so many people have expressed by choosing to live here, even though it is not the easiest place to make a living.
The other big “aha” I got from the TOTA breakfast was that no matter what else we may do to attract or grow business here in Vernon, tourism is the keystone. It is the keystone because it is the main way people first find their way to living or investing here. To borrow a phrase, the tourism experience is like the “gateway drug” that gets into people. They come here to visit and it eventually dawns on them that this is a really good place to live. It is. We just need to find ways to select the people who can bring jobs with them.
George Duffy is the general manager of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.