If the City of Vernon was a celebrity, well, just which celebrity isn’t known.
But if the City of Vernon was a dog, however, it would be a black Lab or golden retriever.
“We’re not showy kind of people. We’re totally OK with that,” said William Bakker, chief strategist and partner with Destination Think!, a Vancouver-based marketing agency that works exclusively with tourism boards, including Tourism Vernon, around the world.
“Yes, we are a bit sleepy, but we don’t want to become a big, fast city.”
Bakker was presenting his findings to Vernon council about the city’s DNA; what is that makes Vernon, Vernon.
Bakker conducted a poll of 350 Vernon residents via Facebook and another 350 tourism businesses to get Vernon’s “story.”
“It’s about storytelling,” said Bakker. “You have beautiful products, lakes, wine, ski resort, golf courses, farm experiences. We’re trying to communicate those stories to a potential target audience. Vernon is a stage for storytelling.”
The DNA makeup includes the lakes, the climate, the mountains, the parks, the flora and fauna.
An overwhelming number of poll respondents, when asked to choose one attribute of Vernon over another, chose a slow pace of life, friendly, honest, authentic, blue collar and happy.
Another important item Bakker kept hearing over and over: Vernon is not Kelowna.
“That’s something that came through loud and clear,” he said. “Vernon’s Place DNA attributes are its three lakes; it’s a small, historic town with historic elements like being friendly, modest and unpretentious.”
In a nutshell, said Bakker, Vernon’s DNA is as follows:
“Life in Vernon is comfortable and that’s the way we like it. Spring, summer, fall or winter, we stay active by exploring the beauty of our natural surroundings. We are a growing city and we enjoy the amenities, however we are committed to maintaining our small-town charm and connection to our pioneering history.”
“When I presented this at an industry event, people started clapping. I guess we got it close enough,” said Bakker. “This is now the foundation for the Vernon story you want to put out there.”
There was some hesitation from Coun. Brian Quiring, who didn’t want Vernon seen as “some kind of Sleepy Hollow.”
“I feel we could be a bit more like Kelowna,” said Quiring, who operates a 23-person architectural firm but, even with placing wants ads across Western Canada, can’t get people to move to Vernon, he said.
“If we’re talking tourism and economic development, I do not want Vernon to be marketed as Sleepy Hollow,” he said. “I’m worried about advertising us as a slow-paced, quaint, blue collar town. That’s a very small part of our population. I can’t get people to move here. It’s hard to get young and aggressive people to move here when you promote it as Sleepy Hollow.”
Mayor Akbal Mund reminded Quiring that both attended Friday’s Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards Friday, and a majority of the winners’ average age, said the mayor, was 25.
“I think the aim here for Destination Think! is why would other people come here,” said Mund. “I don’t want to sell it as Sleepy Hollow either, but we want to attract real thinkers and entrepreneurs, and we have attracted those who’ve opened businesses that are unique and can tie into industry.”
Tourism Vernon manager Ange Chew, who drew great praise for the industry work she does from Bakker, said the Destination Think! report is a starting point.
“We have great products. We are growing and learning,” said Chew.