By Lyonel Doherty
The impact of weather and wildfires has resulted in lower visitor numbers in Oliver this year.
The Oliver Tourism Association (OTA) has reported that visitor numbers are down 2,000 compared to 2017.
From the beginning of 2018 to mid-November, 9,357 people dropped into the Oliver Visitor Centre, compared to 11,369 in 2017.
“Things are changing . . . we’re competing more than ever for visitor traffic with our neighbouring communities,” said treasurer Carol Sheridan during her presentation to Town council on Monday.
She cited the fire season and weather as a couple of reasons why numbers are down significantly.
• Read more: Town supports TOTA’s biosphere destination
Sheridan also noted that visitors are seeking out information about tourism experiences in Oliver in different ways.
“They don’t just walk into your centre anymore, they’re looking on your website, they’re looking through social media”
(The Oliver Chronicle has learned that visitor centre manager Rhoda Brooks is scheduled to be laid off in December – the first time that has happened in 13 years.)
Sheridan said this year’s Festival of the Grape was also subject to unkind weather, noting they sold just under 2,800 tickets.
But the Oliver Cask and Keg festival saw a 30 per cent increase in attendance, with more than 800 people.
“A lot of people decided to come and spend the entire weekend,” she said.
Sheridan said one of OTA’s biggest accomplishments this year was engaging people through social media. She reported nearly 1,600 fans on their Facebook page. She also noted they have nearly 2,600 fans following them on Twitter, and more than 1,000 followers on Instagram (up 500 per cent since 2017).
Sheridan told council that OTA is finding that the cost of operating the visitor centre and marketing Oliver is increasing.
• Read more: Oliver tourism a mixed bag (2013)
She noted the number and value of the grants they receive are decreasing or no longer available.
Despite that, OTA distributed 30,000 of its visitor guides this year, and they are all gone, she pointed out.
Sheridan said the board discussed priorities and agreed that looking at their staff structure is one of them. For example, they need an executive director to work on obtaining grants, form new partnerships, and most importantly, work towards a DMO (destination marketing organization) accreditation.
“For us to really, really bring the world to Oliver like we know everybody wants us to do, we need to amp up the level of staff service that we have.”
To that end, Sheridan requested a three per cent increase per year from the Town of Oliver, a total of $2,596 over three years. (The association’s fee for service agreement with the Town is coming up for review in 2019.)
Mayor Martin Johansen asked OTA if it is working on bringing a new event to Oliver.
Board director Danielle Hutton said they are working on a winter event as a top priority.
“We really want to focus on being a four-season destination,” she said.