The Creston Valley Tourism Society remains optimistic about the industry in the coming years, despite difficulties throughout the pandemic.
In 2019, the Tourism Society was established following the provincial introduction of a 2 per cent hotel levy on overnight stays, paid by visitors. Their mandate is to use the funds to promote visitation to the area, to support visitors in having a great experience, and provide leadership to encourage growth of the local tourism sector.
In most recent developments, local resident Jesse Willicome was welcomed to the team as the new tourism co-ordinator. He grew up in Creston, then spent several years pursuing post-secondary and travelling abroad before returning home.
Willicome will be familiar to many residents and business owners due to his previous work as the Creston Area Community Initiatives Consultant on the Creston Valley-Kootenay Lake Route Tourism campaign. He also spent the past year working for the Creston Valley-Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership on various economic and tourism development projects, such as the Show Local Love shopping campaign.
“It’s a fairly competitive environment in the Kootenays, so it’s important to have an industry-led association within our community,” he said.
“Having grown up here, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Creston go from being a bit of a hidden gem to coming into it’s own as a destination that people love to visit because of it’s friendly people and beautiful scenery. I’m looking forward to working to support our tourism sector through this time and safely welcoming visitors back in the not-to-distant-future.”
With vaccines rolling out, the hope is that travel restrictions will lift later this year. Willicome said that the Tourism Society will play an important role in bringing more visitors to town.
He said there are many things that make Creston a wonderful place to explore, including outdoor recreation like hiking and kayaking, locally-grown food at the Farmers’ Market, fresh fruit, wineries, great weather, and beautiful landscapes.
“I think people often find the Creston Valley by accident on their way to other places,” he said.
“This is the perfect place for young families and retired couples to visit and relax. We have nice easy trails to stroll on and so much wine and food to enjoy. There’s a huge market for that here. We’re like a micro-Okanagan.”
“We’ve had to fully change our marketing strategy to pivot and adjust to the current situation,” said Willicome.
“We should be ready to hit the ground running in 2022 with some great resources set up for future visitors.”
Despite the many challenges over the last year, Willicome said that he heard from a number of local businesses that last summer had record-breaking sales.
“I think a lot of that was contributed to regional travellers visiting different communities in the Kootenays, and even locals who started spending their money more at home,” he said.
“I think it’s a testament to how proud people are of our local businesses. The support was huge.”
He recognized that this spring has been a tough time as the three-week “circuit breaker” put a strain on business owners.
“Our number of visitors has been way down, and that’s had a tough impact on the industry,” he said. “But we know that we all need to follow public health orders right now. We’ll continue advocating for the supports that our businesses need.”
As the Tourism Society plans for future growth, they welcome other passionate community members to get involved to help work on their goals.