The tourism panel at the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, June 19. Left to right: Cranbrook Tourism executive director Kristy Jahn-Smith; CEO of Kootenay Rockies Tourism Kathy Cooper; Destination BC vice president Ron Porges; Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) CEO Paula Amos. Paul Rodgers photo

The future of Cranbrook tourism

Chamber of Commerce luncheon: Utilizing our ‘mountains of opportunity’ to become tourism hotspot

Paul Rodgers

The Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon on Wednesday, June 19 at St. Eugene, bringing together four panelists to discuss the future of tourism in Cranbrook and around the region.

The panel, moderated by Chris Botterill, consisted of Cranbrook Tourism executive director Kristy Jahn-Smith, Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) CEO Paula Amos, Destination BC vice president Ron Porges and CEO of Kootenay Rockies Tourism Kathy Cooper.

Porges discussed the mandate of Destination BC and how they wan tot continue to work closely and collaboratively with Cranbrook. Some of the strategies to develop Cranbrook as a tourism hub included creating more content, such as storytelling through various mediums including video, building the relationship with Cranbrook Tourism and providing Cranbrook with tools and assets to continue growth.

Porges highlighted the assets Cranbrook has and its potential to become a tourism hub; our four-season products, our Indigenous culture, the international airport, our road system and close proximity to the U.S. border. He pointed out the need to create and adhere to five- to 10-year plans, anticipating and preparing for growth and visitor management strategies.

“You’ve got great potential to grow,” Porges said. “To do that though, it won’t just happen, you have to one. plan deliberately, develop a five to ten year plan … it’s not going to happen overnight, and it won’t happen organically, so I think it’s important for any community that decides it wants to grow this particular industry and diversify its economy through tourism to be deliberate about it and plan.

“And we’re supporting that through the Destination Development Planning Process,” Porges said.

His next point was the importance of realizing that visitors visit an area, and there’s few places in B.C. where they visit just one city, and so it is crucial to partner with other communities rather than market Cranbrook as a single destination.

His final piece of advice pertained to the hard-to-predict nature of technology and the importance of staying abreast of changes in the digital space.

Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) is a non-profit that was started by a group of entrepreneurs around 22 years ago. Amos has been working with them for the past 18 years and said that St. Eugene is one of the original Indigenous tourism businesses that was created over 25 years ago.

Their core areas are in marketing and experience development. The Province of B.C. has been working on a ten-year tourism strategy, that ITBC has been aligned, along with other organizations like Destination BC.

“We know that our Indigenous communities are more and more seeing tourism as an economic driver,” Amos explained. “We’ve always been around in the areas of forestry and fisheries, so it’s taken a bit longer for our communities to really see tourism as an economic driver.”

There are around 19,000 tourism businesses in the province, and right now there are 100 market-ready businesses that are Indigenous owned and operated — Amos stated that this represents the early stages and real room for growth, but they are starting to see that happen.

She said some of the biggest trends she sees in Indigenous tourism include more socially conscious tourists who seek authenticity and travel that incorporates health and wellness, and a focus on high quality, interesting cuisine.

A running theme throughout the luncheon, and one that Kathy Cooper discussed, was the “tremendous amount of opportunity for Cranbrook.” Indeed, “mountains of opportunity” is the slogan of Cranbrook written on signs on the way into town.

Cooper said that there is a rise in the demand for cultural tourism and that Cranbrook is positioned nicely to plug into that.

As well as the relationship with the Ktunaxa Nation and St. Eugene, she highlighted the Cranbrook History Centre and Fort Steele, which she said is under-utilized. She also said that while Cranbrook is already a regional service centre, that could be developed further and the city could become a hub for meetings, weddings, business functions and retreats.

Cranbrook Tourism’s executive director, Kristy Jahn-Smith, brought up some interesting points, including challenging the prevailing notion of, essentially, “why would you want to go to Cranbrook,” mentioning the recent Price is Right winner who declined their prize of a six-night trip to Cranbrook, and susequent discussions on Facebook.

Jahn-Smith also pointed out the recent website that was being shared around social media last week, full of “Cranbrook-isms” and a light-hearted, humorous pros and cons list of what Cranbrook has to offer. One thing from this was that Cranbook is just surrounded by tourism meccas like Fernie and Kimberley, and those are the places people want to go.

“Why not Cranbrook?” she asked. “People didn’t always look at Fernie and Kimberley as destinations either, that’s the work that they’ve been doing and they’ve been at that work for a while, so Cranbrook’s just getting started with our destination marketing and we have some catching up to do, but we have as much or more as some of those other communities.”

Some other opportunities Jahn-Smith highlighted was the area’s world-class mountain biking and the fact that, though we don’t have a ski hill right in Cranbrook, we are in a lot closer proximity to two hills (Fernie and Kimberley) than some other major cities, like Vancouver that has a two-hour drive to Whistler, or Kelowna with an hour to Big White.

“I feel like Cranbrook is a little humble and I feel like we should stand up on our chairs and beat our chests a little bit and say that we have it up here.”

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