City to close doors of physical Visitor Information Centre at end of August 2020 as a result of COVID-19, council to look for digital proposals. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

COVID-19: Salmon Arm council to terminate contract for Visitor Information Centre

Chamber to close centre doors at end of August after 25 years, city to welcome digital proposals

With COVID-19 will come the end of an era for providing tourists information in Salmon Arm.

At the end of August this year, the city will be terminating its contract with the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce to provide visitor information services, a service it has been providing for about 25 years. That means the in-person, face-t0-face Visitor Information Centre will no longer exist in its current form.

At city council’s May 25 meeting, Coun. Chad Eliason and the city’s director of corporate services, Erin Jackson, reported on a tourism services review they embarked on for the city at the end of January. They held one-to-one consultations with tourism stakeholders with a view to long- and short-term tourism planning.

One of their findings was that digital marketing is the way of the future. Millennials and Generation X travellers are planning vacations on their computers.

Eliason pointed to the morning of May 25 when people were trying to book reservations for provincial campsites.

“There were so many people online trying to do that that it crashed the system. People have clearly moved online,” he said.

He also pointed out that other municipalities are closing their visitor information centres, most recently Vernon which terminated its contract.

Read more: 2015 – Visitors shifting to digital info

Read more: One Okanagan visitor’s centre contract not renewed

Eliason said going to the end of August will give visitor information staff a chance, if there are no international tourists, to focus on local front-line providers in the community, educating them and making them better frontline ambassadors for the city.

“After the summer season is over and the summer students are done, then we move into a period where we’ll be able to sit back, reflect and then ask for proposals (for providing visitor information services in the future) and who’s best to provide that service and what that service looks like.”

Eliason suggested an RFP (request for proposals) could be issued possibly in January 2021.

The city provides quarterly instalments of about $34,000 to the chamber for visitor information services, so Mayor Alan Harrison noted that will be a saving for the city.

Read more: Smoke takes toll on summer visitor numbers

Read more: 2013 – New site for tourism info?

Both he and Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond thanked the chamber for its many years of running the Visitor Information Centre.

“I think the chamber, in particular Corryn Grayston (executive director), has done an amazing job of managing the VIC for many years and is much appreciated,” said Harrison, adding there would be nothing to stop the chamber from bidding on an upcoming RFP.

Wallace Richmond also thanked the chamber staff, board and Grayston.

“As council’s chamber rep, I want to underline how incredibly resilient the chamber is facing these difficulties and under no circumstances are we saying there will no longer be visitor information services for people visiting Salmon Arm. What we are saying is, given the current circumstances, as well as the changes from person-to-person to virtual trip planning and story telling, and place making, we just need some time to wind down one model and ramp up the next one…,” she said.
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