Federal tourism minister

Federal Minister of Tourism Mélanie Joly speaks to a crowd Thursday at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.

Despite record-breaking numbers of international tourists for the past two years, Minister of Tourism Mélanie Joly said the Okanagan Valley is one region that could benefit from a new federal strategy aimed at growing the tourism industry.

“The industry could definitely have some help in making sure that there is not too much of a seasonal approach, but year-long,” she told reporters.

“We know this sector is booming . . . in Canada and around the world.”

Last year, 21.1 million international visitors arrived in Canada, but Joly said the concern is many of them stay within the country’s three major cities: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The Federal Tourism Growth Strategy, which was announced publicly in Montreal on Tuesday, aims to increase middle-class jobs and promote year-long tourism by 2025 by encouraging tourists to look outside the major cities.

“What we have in mind is creating these destinations across the country,” she said. “What we have seen in the tourism sector is what Canadians and international visitors can benefit from is the spread of offerings outside of our bigger cities.”

The Canadian Experience Fund, while open to Canadian communities of all sizes, would benefit regions such as the South Okanagan, said Joly, because it offers an opportunity to receive support from the federal government to “enhance tourism products and experiences.”

The Okanagan Valley was described as being a region that does not have the “range of assets necessary for an international tourism cluster,” with Joly saying a national park would be a “good investment in infrastructure,” and that the federal government would be willing to listen if the community had a plan for the park.

A Regional Tourism Investment Table will also be introduced, with federal representatives meeting with local municipalities and their tourism offices and chamber of commerce, to “make sure there can be a clear plan of how to make the right investments in the region.”

Destination Canada also received a small boost to its annual $100-million budget, with a $5-million campaign to promote tourism within the country to Canadians.

When asked if she condones the actions of local tourist outlets blaming the media for “sensationalizing” forest fires and flooding, Joly stressed the importance of trust.

“Public trust must be in favour of the media,” she said. “We believe that the media plays an important role . . . (but) it’s up to journalists to make their own choice what to cover as news, and it’s up to them to present facts, and then it’s up to citizens to decide what they think.”

She added climate change is real when asked about the forest fire season in the Okanagan, and said the government is working to lessen its impact.

“The reality is, we need to make sure also that we help the tourism sector become a bigger industry and to be able to deal with sometimes natural disasters.”

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