National Geographic helping Columbia Valley

The Crown of the Continent has partnered with the National Geographic in geotourism project.

The Crown of Continent Geotourism Council and Kootenay Rockies Tourism recently gave a joint presentation to local tourism and hotel operators, showcasing their new website and other new digital tools.

The Wednesday, April 27th presentation was held at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce and saw Crown of the Continent Geotourism project co-ordinator Sheena Pate and Kootenay Rockies Tourism manger of business development Wendy Van Puymbroeck explain about the Crown of the Continent’s new tourism website, which promotes destinations in southeastern B.C., southwestern Alberta and northwestern Montana.

The pair also talked about Crown of the Continent’s new Trip Plan tool (which allows visitors to the area to plan out itineraries by linking together different destinations and experiences based on their own interests); and the Geotourism Destination badges it plans to distribute (both physically and digitally) to businesses and organizations featured on the website, which the the businesses can then display in their stores.

“(The geotourism project) helps highlight what makes Invermere unique. What we are trying to do is highlight the distinct nature of each community in the Crown of the Continent area,” Pate told The Echo, adding the project is partnered with National Geographic, which means the project brings huge brand recognition to many of the area’s smaller communities.

“(Leveraging the National Geographic brand) is a big piece of the project,” she said. “It can help the Columbia Valley, for instance, rise above other parts of B.C.”

The Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council was formed in 2007 by tourism bureaus, businesses and conservation organizations initially centred around Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

That scope has since broadened to include what participants call the greater Crown of the Continent area (encompassing large tracts of northwestern Montana, as well as the mountainous part of southeastern B.C. and southwestern Alberta lying south of Banff and Kootenay National Parks).

Several months after the council began, it was approached by National Geographic which had ranked the Crown highly on a list of places that still retains much of their traditional character but were, in National Geographic’s eyes, threatened by the likelihood of big box store-style development.

A partnership to promote visitor experiences, conservation and sustainable business practices was launched. The effort targets visitors that the Geotourism Council labels as “geotravellers”, which it defines as those with an interest in sustainability and conservation.

Participation in the program is free and much of the content for the Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council’s website is generated by local residents of the various communities.

“Our content is deemed as ‘a travel guide to the places most respected and recommended by locals.’ This is the exact type of content that geotravellers trust and are looking for. This hyperlocal content combined with the National Geographic brand is extremely valuable to Invermere and the Columbia Valley and can be leveraged in a variety of ways,” said Pate. “Through our program, we’re able to highlight hyperlocal experiences online and with a physical map guide.”

Part of the reason for the recent visit to Invermere (and similar visits to other East Kootenay communities) was to “encourage the attendees to become ‘field experts’ and submit their favourite local places to visit,” said Van Puymbroeck.

The Geotourism Council partners with already-established tourism organizations, such as Kootenay Rockies Tourism and, as Van Puymbroeck told The Echo, the two groups are promoting several of the communities in the East Kootenay region, including Invermere, as gateway communities to the Crown of the Continent.

“Essentially (the project is) free marketing for the region and Invermere, directed at the travellers who are interested in immersing themselves in the communities they visit,” said Plate. “These visitors respect the communities they visit and are invested in supporting the well-being of the communities. They buy local, support small businesses, contribute to conservation efforts, volunteer and so on.”

The project through the National Geographic brand will bring national and international exposure for Invermere, added Van Puymbroeck.

Pate said the presentation at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce was well-received by those who attended.

“People were really enthusiastic, especially about the new features,” she said.

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