As the region's tourism industry develops new strategies to compete globally for visitors, it knows it must maintain and even improve the quality of all types of traveller accommodations.
To help accommodation operators throughout the region ensure that high quality, the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA) will conduct its 2012 series of facility inspections covering resorts, hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds, RV parks, guest ranches, and even houseboats and fishing lodges.
Over the next six months, TOTA Quality Assurance Manager Rob Grifone will visit nearly every community in the vast region to conduct on-site inspections of approximately 330 tourist accommodations. The inspection includes verification that minimum requirements are in place as well as a stringent review of cleanliness, state of repair, and safety. He will pay a visit to more than 60 communities – including Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, Salmon Arm, Merritt, Princeton, Osoyoos, Grand Forks, Valemount, Ashcroft, Lumby, Sicamous, and most towns in-between.
In early 2011 TOTA won the Tourism BC contract to carry out the inspections of all properties in the Thompson Okanagan that choose to be included in Tourism BC's 'Approved Accommodation' program. Each of the region's 660 participating accommodation properties is visited every second year, so Grifone inspects 330 each year. His first year of inspections with TOTA was in 2011.
The program gives properties a major marketing boost – putting them in Tourism BC's widely distributed Approved Accommodation Guide as well as in TBC's extensive 'HelloBC' travel website listings. They also qualify to have visitor reservations made through TBC's free reservation service, they can display the TBC Approved Accommodation sign, they can use the 'Super, Natural British Columbia' brand in ads, and they become eligible for highway signage.
TOTA CEO Glenn Mandziuk says Grifone's extensive inspection tour accomplishes two important goals for the region's tourism industry. "It allows TOTA to work closely and constructively with accommodators throughout the Thompson Okanagan to help them comply with best practices and provide high quality facilities for their guests," Mandziuk says. "It also allows TOTA to meet face-to-face with hundreds of our stakeholders in all communities – for better two-way communication between individual tourism businesses and their regional organization."
Grifone began his 2012 tour in February and will finish by late August. In September he will send final reports to Tourism BC. The great majority of properties will successfully become or remain Approved Accommodations, sometimes after Grifone has pointed out necessary upgrades during his first visit, giving the property a chance to fix any deficiencies.
"My visits are unannounced and I inspect a random sample of guest rooms, as well as all of the property's common areas and amenities. It's interesting to see these properties up-close, and the new ones coming on-stream each year," Grifone says. "The Thompson Okanagan is a huge, diverse region and I'm really impressed with the diversity of tourist accommodations we have – from big resorts and hotels, to the boutique hotels, to the chalets at ski-resorts, the RV parks, houseboats, guest ranches, and the many motels as well as a wide range of bed and breakfasts.
Grifone is a veteran of the tourism industry. He has worked as a Community Tourism Co-ordinator for Alberta Tourism, a Product Development Manager for Tourism Kelowna, a BC Parks and Parks Canada officer, an International Education Program Director, and a visiting researcher at two universities in Australia. Also, prior to joining TOTA, while working as the provincial Accommodation Advisor mainly for the Thompson Okanagan, he worked on various consulting projects including for organizations such as the BC Agritourism Alliance and go2, The Resource for People in Tourism.
Grifone joined TOTA a year ago when the regional organization won the inspection contract for the Thompson Okanagan. He did his first inspections for TOTA in 2011, and this year he will conduct on-site inspections to the other 330 tourist accommodations in the region. When not administering the Approved Accommodation program, Grifone also serves as TOTA's Industry Services Assistant, working on many tourism research and industry development projects.
From his unique vantage point on accommodations, Grifone says he is particularly impressed with the growth and professionalism of B&Bs in the region. "They have changed in recent years: they're not just empty-nest rooms – people are building homes or renovating them and including private entrances, ensuite bathrooms, guest lounges, theatre rooms – going the extra mile to be good hosts and offer things the consumer is looking for," Grifone says.
"B&Bs now supply much more than just breakfast – many are partnering with area attractions like wineries and are touring their guests around, even providing a mini-tourism information centre right in their homes. B&Bs are raising the bar – really improving the visitor experience in our region and becoming great ambassadors for their communities."
Grifone also notes the increasing number of high-end resorts being built or upgraded across the Thompson Okanagan. "It's a very competitive travel marketplace. Consumers' expectations are rising and they are becoming quite fussy, so we have to continue to raise our level if we are going to continue to compete."
He adds that by ensuring that properties meet the standards that today's traveller demands, the Approved Accommodation program is a key part of maintaining the valuable 'Super, Natural British Columbia' brand.
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FOR INFORMATION CONTACT:
Glenn Mandziuk, CEO, Office: 250-860-5999 ext 216, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Grifone, Quality Assurance Manager, Office: 250-860-5999 ext 208 Cell: 250-718-6256, email@example.com