Vancouver’s unique Tourism Challenge is now well under way. Two weeks to go ‘til closing time. I have enough stamps already but will probably collect a few more along the way. Of course this year wasn’t the crazy race last year was, but the circumstances were different, too.

For those wondering what on Earth I’m talking about, the Tourism Challenge is an exceptional initiative of the Vancouver Attractions Group, Tourism Vancouver and the Vancouver Hotel General Managers Association. In its seventh year, the program aims at giving tourism industry workers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with our area’s fantastic attractions and hotels.

The goal is a workforce that is better informed and more motivated to talk about what we have to offer to our visitors. With the 2010 Winter Olympic Games just around the corner, Vancouver is going to find itself in the spotlight long before the event, and hopefully long after it is over. The tourism industry has everything to gain from a well oiled machine and efficient networking so that visitors can be efficiently informed and directed from a key location to another by friendly and enthusiastic staff.

In comes the Tourism Challenge. A group of 60 tourism industry partners have designed special rates and free admission parameters for the Challenge and a special passport containing all the details is issued in late April to all the participants. They then have 6 weeks to visit, along with a guest, as many attractions as possible, receiving a stamp or more for each successful visit. Most attractions are free, superb hotel rooms are offered at amazingly low rates, one only has trouble deciding where to go first.

Finally, in early June, passports are collected and stamps counted. 15 stamps is the minimum required to see a Tourism Challenge Pass issued. Prizes are also drawn among the participants and they get bigger in stages, at 25 and 35 stamps. But the pass itself is what really makes the program shine. It entitles its bearer to free admission to most attractions for the rest of the year, for two people. Period.

We now have a happy tourism workforce (most of it, anyway ;-) ) that will continue to visit the Greater Vancouver hot-spots year-round and stay up-to-date on the latest events, promotions and offers. Very few people normally take the time to visit their own city’s museums and tourist attractions, partly because of the cost, partly because these are things we do when we are tourists ourselves, not at home in our daily routine. But the Tourism Challenge manages to draw its people out and remind them that indeed, they can have fun at home on their own turf. And more importantly, they will also tell others about it, with a smile.

Kudos to the three organizations behind the idea. I am thrilled to be part of the program and excited to get a chance to return the ball and promote our fantastic attractions and hotels.

Among my favourite participating attractions on which I have blogged or taken pictures from in the past are Grouse Mountain, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Vancouver Aquarium, Harbour Cruises, the Vancouver Lookout, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, Imax at Canada Place, the VanDusen Botanical Garden, The Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Sewell’s Marina, False Creek Ferries, Landsea Tours and West Coast Sightseeing, the Tourism vancouver Info Center, and more…