Controversial tourist centre opens in Kelowna
A controversial tourism information centre has officially opened its doors in a prime spot on the Okanagan Lake waterfront.
Construction of the new $2.8 million Kelowna Visitor Centre started in late November of last year and building construction got underway in February.
The new centre opened to the public on Thursday afternoon.
Plans for a new visitor information centre were officially brought forward in Jan. 2016.
Despite the need for a new centre, the project sparked a lot of controversy with opponents turning out in droves at public meetings upset about the new centre being located on a prime waterfront property.
Tourism Kelowna agreed with some of the concerns and made changes to the initial plans.
“It became very clear that community residents did not want to see a tourism with its offices right on the lakefront and that made sense, why would you be using taxpayers money to have beautiful offices in this beautiful prime location, so we took that out of the build,” Tourism Kelowna President and CEO Lisanne Ballantyne said at the grand-opening on Thursday.
The new centre was proposed because of a dwindling number of people visiting the old location on Highway 97.
Tourism Kelowna said there is a trend right across North America that has visitor centres moving off of highways and into high volume pedestrian areas. Something it says is proving successful in influencing visitors to spend more and stay longer.
“Being exposed now to 400,000 plus pedestrians down here a year is just going to vastly increase the scope of who we can talk to and increase the scope of influence and hopefully getting more people spending in the market,” Ballantyne said.
Last year, about 20,000 tourists stopped at the old centre.
The new location is expected to see 5 times that many people over the next year.
Some businesses near the new tourism information centre have also expressed concerns.
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Tourism Kelowna, a not-for-profit society, plans to book and sell tickets for experiences and attractions.
A news release from the destination marketing organization says it will take advantage of 420,000 pedestrians that walk the waterfront boardwalk each year.
“Tourism Kelowna is proud and excited to open our new Kelowna Visitor Centre as an important new addition to our community,” said Thom Killingsworth, Chair of Tourism Kelowna’s Board of Directors.
“A strong visitor experience includes a well-positioned visitor information centre and innovative visitor experience strategy, which will keep visitors coming back to Kelowna and continued growth of our local economy.”
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