Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz had a great deal for federal Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly in Armstrong Thursday.
The Armstrong to Sicamous rail trail corridor project needs money, said Rysz. The feds have announced a new marketing strategy – which is what brought Joly to the North Okanagan and Fairways Bistro at the Royal York Golf Course – which includes money, said Joly.
“It’s (rail trail) a great project, worth being studied,” said Joly to a sold-out crowd at the event hosted by the Armstrong Spallumcheen and Greater Vernon chambers of commerce. She was presented with a concept design report of the rail trail corridor by Armstrong Spallumcheen chamber board president Peter Rotzetter.
“It shows the power of tourism. By adding tourism, now, to our key infrastructure priorities, we can now fund these projects and these can drive local economies.”
Joly announced the government’s new marketing strategy, which includes creating 54,000 new jobs by 2025 across the country; increasing revenues by 25 per cent, or $128 billion in the economy by 2025; increasing, by one million, the number of visitors that come to Canada during winter and shoulder season; and getting international visitors out of Canada’s three biggest cities – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – and into regions like the North Okanagan-Shuswap.
“This is a very ambitious strategy but we’re confident we can do that,” said Joly.
Ottawa has launched a new federal Canadian Experiences Fund, where $60 million is available over two years. The idea is to support five types of products or experiences that businesses and not-for-profit groups can develop in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.
That includes any products or experiences aligned with winter and shoulder season; what can be done during that time of year to drive visitors to the area.
The Armstrong to Sicamous rail trail corridor would fit under remote and rural tourism, another of the products/experiences eligible for federal funding.
“Remote and rural tourism is obviously relevant to this region,” said Joly. “We’ve seen what tourism has done here, and by supporting more of these beautiful local gems, we’ll help grow the tourism sector.”
Everything in line with Indigenous tourism is available for funding, and Joly announced $2.5 million in funding for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to help Indigenous people and groups develop products and experiences to help with tourism.
“We know there’s fantastic growth, 17 per cent growth, in Indigenous tourism,” said Joly. “One-third of Chinese people coming to Canada seek an Indigenous tourism experience. Fifty per cent of German people want an Indigenous tourism experience, and so do two-thirds of visitors from France.”
Also eligible for funding is LGBTQ tourism, a community, said Joly, that travels “four-to-six-times per year,” and, “if there’s a place the LGBTQ community can feel safe, it’s obviously here (Canada).”
Saving the best for last, said Joly, was funding available for culinary tourism, or farm to table tourism, something totally relevant to the North Okanagan-Shuswap.
“We can support our farmers’ markets and want to get international visitors to go see them,” said Joly. “We can support food festivals that become an event where people can discover the great local food and products. What are we doing for wineries and cideries that people can go and discover.”
Joly also said in order for Ottawa to help create destinations in Canada, they need to attract more private investments, and said the Liberals have finally added tourism to the top of government priorities.
“Tourism is not at the children’s table anymore, we’re finally at the adult table,” said Joly. “All the departments within government will look at not only the issues within the tourism sector but opportunities as well.”
The infusion of federal funding and renewed national focus on tourism is welcome news to the Armstrong Spallumcheen and Greater Vernon chambers of commerce.