The Vernon Visitor Information Centre’s operating contract expires Thursday, April 30, and will not be renewed for the time being. (Google photo)

The Vernon Visitor Information Centre’s operating contract expires Thursday, April 30, and will not be renewed for the time being. (Google photo)

One Okanagan visitor’s centre contract not renewed

Temporary closure expands; no staff available as of May 1; requests for proposals cancelled

The temporary closure of Vernon’s Visitor Information Centre will be extended with no staff to help.

The centre off 39th Avenue was shut down temporarily April 3 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the centre’s staff was still available remotely by phone or email to answer questions.

The contract with the company operating the centre, Durning Directions, expires Thursday, April 30, and will not be renewed as the city reviews its tourism function.

“We were in the midst of requests for proposals but we’ve cancelled that,” said Kevin Poole, City of Vernon manager of economic development and tourism.

The city’s tourism function is mostly funded through the hotel tax, at approximately 80 per cent of the budget. Vernon will receive a cheque at some point in 2020 for January and February, and a few dates in March, but it’s not enough to sustain the centre as hotels and accommodators suffer through the crisis with no guests to house.

“We usually receive $1.1 million in hotel tax revenue,” said Poole. “Because of provincial regulations and changes, we might not see a cheque this year until November. It’s going to be a tough year for tourism.”

Durning Directions had operated the visitor centre for 11 consecutive years. The expiration of the contract affects six staff members and five volunteers.

“It’s quite sad for us, and quite sad for the city,” said Teresa Durning, owner/operator of Durning Directions. “It was an amazing run and an amazing relationship with the city. COVID affects people’s movements. It’s a tough go. Tough on many levels.”

Poole has no idea what tourism will look like when life returns to some semblance of normal.

“How do we move forward when things look to reopen,?” he asked. “What’s it going to look like?”

Should the city call again for requests for proposals to operate the visitor centre, Durning would reapply as “my heart is in this community.”

“I hope we look back at the challenges (when crisis is over) and not remember the tough times but the resilience we showed to get through this together,” she said.

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roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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