On a crisp winter morning, the staff at the Osoyoos Visitor Centre are found stocking a collection of newly acquired merchandise ahead of the spring season.
“People frequently comment on the uniqueness of the goods and products that we have available in The Boutique,” says staff member Leslie Carter as she moves about the store located on the ground floor of the Visitor Centre. “Any and all Osoyoos-branded items are certainly the most sought after.”
Carter notes that although The Boutique at the Osoyoos Visitor Centre receives critical acclaim on a regular basis, a more popular focus for visitors coming into the building is on the brochure racks — racks loaded with wine passports, restaurant menus, accommodation options, local attractions, and more.
“People like to leave here with something physical, and in many cases, they leave with a full stack,” Carter adds, pointing to a collection of pamphlets.
Amid running The Boutique and keeping brochures stocked — two of their countless day-to-day duties — staff will typically find themselves providing detailed advice to visitors on a multitude of topics related to Osoyoos and the surrounding area, all year long.
Answering frequently asked questions like “Where can I find some merlot?” or “What is the best bike trail to ride with a family?” to the lesser asked ones like “Does Osoyoos have any pay phones?”, the Visitor Centre staff are an essential resource for out-of-towners and locals alike — ready to deploy their wealth of knowledge about every nook, cranny, golf course, paddleboard rental and even proposal location upon visitor request.
While help finding the perfect spot for a marriage proposal location is asked of the staff more often than you might expect, the role of our local Visitor Centre (VC) is so much more than assisting with questions like these.
The VC is an essential cog that helps a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) such as Destination Osoyoos build out a strategy to benefit the local economy.
“In addition to passing along first-hand information from the people that walk through the door, the Visitor Centre has routine communications with our local hotels and other stakeholders regarding things like seasonal trends and occupancy rates,” says Kelley Glazer, Executive Director for Destination Osoyoos.
“Our team can then use this indispensable feedback collected by the Centre to determine if there are gaps to be filled in order to focus our marketing efforts.”
In the face of a crisis, the Osoyoos Visitor Centre is also on the front lines. When a wildfire sparks in the area, the VC becomes a fulcrum for communicating safe, accurate, effective and timely travel information for visitors both leaving town or hoping to arrive at a later date. And when a nearby highway closes following a natural disaster, the VC staff find themselves helping visitors source accommodations or other essential information they might need.
The VC has become a community hub that brings locals together as well. This winter it hosted a Snowbird Open House to answer questions and connect people who have made Osoyoos their temporary home. At multiple times of the year, the Visitor Centre will host shopping parties for locals to come together and bond over snacks and discounts. It has also proven to be a source of inspiration for the various ways locals can entertain visiting friends and relatives.
If you zoom outward, the lifeblood of the Osoyoos Visitor Centre is linked to a much larger network that spans across British Columbia: Destination BC’s Visitor Services Network Program. This program consists of over 130 community-owned Visitor Centres, each identified by a distinctive blue-and-yellow “i” logo and located on key routes throughout the province.
The members of the Network Program have Centres that fill similar roles to the one in Osoyoos but are tailored to the needs of their own community and Destination BC works with Visitor Services teams across BC’s tourism industry to continually expand the delivery of locally-offered services.
This includes creating more contemporary and innovative ways to connect with travellers online and out in communities.
“In today’s landscape, Visitor Services are being looked upon for information long before the visitor arrives at their destination,” says Monique Willis, Visitor Services Network Program Manager with Destination BC.
In fact, “Visitor Centres are answering inquiries and influencing travel decisions early on in the process.”
With ever-changing trends and traveller tendencies, Destination BC utilizes its own resources to keep Centres’ offerings — including the one in Osoyoos — up to date and current. Routine training is provided by Destination BC to ensure our local VC is equipped and knowledgeable on key visitor decision metrics such as sustainable travel, Indigenous tourism products, and the development of local itineraries for accessibility needs.
Destination BC also assists Visitor Services teams with visual content, crisis management support, community engagement, grants and funding for projects, and the sharing of various programs and ideas.
“There is a general feeling in the Network that if they take opportunities to collaborate, share best practices, and key learnings, not only do they improve the overall visitor experience, but become better ambassadors for their own community,” notes Willis, expressing that neighbouring communities within a region often work together.
In 2022, Destination BC says community Visitor Centres served approximately 2 million people face-to-face at their physical locations, around their community, through email, over social media, and on the phone.
When focusing on the local numbers, the Osoyoos Visitor Centre saw nearly 13,700 people walk through its doors in 2022 — which marks a 30 per cent increase from 2021 and the most since the COVID-19 pandemic.
With this number expected to grow in 2023, the roles and responsibilities of the Osoyoos Visitor Centre will only become more vital to the tourism industry and the local economy. And while the Ambassadors at the Osoyoos Visitor Centre isn’t specifically there to help with every facet of a proposal, they can certainly point you in the direction of a quiet park or place with a beautiful view.