Tourism is big business in the Thompson Okanagan region.
The statistics prove it — more than 3.5-million visitors on average visit every year, creating an economic impact of about $2 billion, according to Glenn Mandziuk, president and CEO of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA).
To bolster that attraction and spinoff economics, TOTA has been accredited by the Responsible Tourism Institute with a biosphere destination certificate.
It puts TOTA in some elite company, as there are only 20 destinations in the world to receive the accreditation, TOTA is the lone association in the Americas with the designation.
“This is a fabulous day for the region and for the province and country,” Mandziuk said Wednesday prior to a press conference at Hotel 540 to mark the accreditation. “It was a heck of a lot of work, but it has been gratifying.”
That work involved meeting the 137 criteria in the certification program, benchmarks that are in line with the 17 United Nations sustainable-development goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Those include looking at standards for affordable, clean energy and water use; human rights and social justice; gender equality; cultural diversity and equality; labour standards, health and poverty standards and sustainable communities
The TOTA certification noted the region’s mountains, valleys, deserts, orchards, vineyards, beaches and other activities like golfing, hiking, biking and skiing, all creating a wide diversity of experiences.
“We are blessed with an extraordinary tourism region in Canada and it is imperative that we collectively work to ensure the long-term sustainability of our social, environmental, cultural and economic ecosystems,” Mandziuk said. “The opportunity to be the first destination in Canada and the United States to achieve such a prestigious international designation will be a tremendous honour for the region and recognizes our commitment to establishing a sustainability charter identified in the Thompson-Okanagan 10-year tourism strategy.”
Sustainability is key, Mandziuk said, because tourism needs to be managed in many aspects to avoid over-tourism or a decrease in quality.
One benefit of the process TOTA followed during accreditation was the creation of a committee comprising representatives of many organizations that deal with life in the Thompson-Okanagan region, from poverty to health to entrepreneurship to tourism and more, Mandziuk said.
Working together is helping TOTA solidify its planning for long-term tourism sustainability.
“What this does is position our region on the world stage,” he said.