Tourism Fernie evolving to meet community expectations
Tourism Fernie has entered 2023 with a continued evolution and focus on destination management, as the travel industry rebounds back into the small-town destinations of North America.
Speaking at the 2023 Tourism Fernie AGM on April 4 at the Cast Iron Grill (a full house of 88 local tourism and community stakeholders), Jikke Gyorki, Executive Officer, said that the organization had “evolved quite a bit” over the last few years to meet the opportunities and challenges that have come with tourism growth over the last decade.
“(Tourism Fernie is) not just a marketing organization anymore … we’re really getting into destination management and destination development, and how we can help the industry, the product and the experience on the ground.”
Gyorki said that the organization was contributing more focus and resources towards sustainable tourism initiatives like AmbassadorWILD, improving signage, infrastructure projects such as installing proper boat launches on the Elk River and a composting toilet at Silver Springs, shuttle bus initiatives and more – all projects that required funding, collaboration and partnerships with stakeholders on the ground.
The tourism numbers before and after COVID back the need for Tourism Fernie to lean into that side of things – visitation numbers, which are calculated from accommodation revenues – have rebounded to above pre-COVID levels as of 2022.
“Spring season last year was strong,” said Gyorki, citing statistics showing hotel revenues were up 32% in spring 2022 over spring 2019 – the last year prior to COVID-19 measures throttling the tourism industry.
It’s not just a story for spring either – annual accommodation revenues overall in 2022 measured in at 22% higher than 2021.
“The demand we thought was going to be returning definitely returned, and rural tourism areas saw solid growth, because people really wanted to be in places like Fernie with fewer faces and bigger spaces.”
With higher numbers of visitors, Gyorki said a big part of the destination management strategy was in focusing projects and initiatives that support managing the busy times of the year – like Summer, when Fernie visitation during a two to three month period outstrips any other season.
“Destination management has continued to be so important,” said Gyorki, adding Tourism Fernie had welcomed input from the wider community in Fernie to ensure they focus on relevant priorities, such as incorporating feedback from the Tourism Master Plan launched in 2020 and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Sustainable Tourism Survey, done in 2022.
“Sustainable tourism and the partnerships we’ve built over time are a really important part of the economy and what we’ve heard… It’s not about growing tourism every day all the time without consideration, it’s about what we can do for long-term sustainability, how to make it better, how can we help manage tourism and where is that help needed.”
Looking outwards, Tourism Fernie retains its marketing reach in showing Fernie to the world but with a more concentrated effort on what, when, how in relation to sustainability. To that end, many marketing efforts were focused on the shoulder seasons to build opportunities for more year-round economic and employment consistencies.
Staff reported that marketing initiatives and outreach had seen upwards of 163 million ‘impressions’ on target audiences in 2022 through various media outlets such as television, online, in print, social media and more.
Tourism Fernie’s sales, media and projects manager Christine Grimble said that feedback through travel trade conventions was that the world tourism market was all ears when it came to travel to BC and what Fernie has to offer as a boutique destination in the Rockies.
“People are ready to travel,” said Grimble. “They are really excited to get out of their own backyards and to explore.”
The AGM also formalized the election of the new Tourism Fernie board for the next 12 months, with three new board members joining.
Financially, Tourism Fernie is also growing thanks to destination management project grants and accommodation revenues. The organization has budgeted some $1.7 million for 2023 operations, up from $1.3 million in 2022.
Of the $1.7 million for 2023, 47% will go towards marketing, 43% will go to destination management initiatives and 10% is for administration.
Finally, attendees at the AGM heard presentations on tourism and projects, with General Manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola, Kirby Brown (pictured above), talking about tourism in the Squamish area, while Darlene Jehn and Danielle Spooner gave an in-depth update on what Fernie can expect of the upcoming Basecamp development in town.
The AGM was followed-up with an industry social at The Taphouse.
Find more details on the presentation and details of the event.