Penticton businesses report boom in tourism bookings after some restrictions lifted this week

 

Boom in tourism bookings

 

Casey Richardson

Hotels, restaurants and wineries saw a large jump up in bookings after BC moved into stage two of its reopening plan this week, welcoming recreational travel for the province and ending restrictions between health regions.

The provincial government announced on Monday that BC was transitioning to the next phase, effective Tuesday — the earliest date possible in.

“Since the COVID restrictions for the 16 of June have been lifted, we have experienced a lot of phone calls, which is exciting for us and the staff. We expect to be between 90 and 100 per cent full for all of July and August. We’re excited to see what’s going to be happening after the post COVID-era of the last 14 to 16 months for sure,” Billy Coles, co-owner and GM of Hotel Penticton said.

“We saw an immediate boost in bookings, the phone has been running off the hook for, I think a couple of days now. And it’s been really clear to the staff as well, we went from like, second gear to fifth gear, and literally in one day. So for the rest of the weekend, in fact, we have over 100 bookings, every service, so it’s busy,”Michael Ziff, the food and beverage manager for Poplar Grove said.

For Hillside Winery, bookings in their restaurant and wine tasting room have been coming in ‘fast and furious,’ according to the Director of food and beverage, Lisa Henderson.

“Both are looking very busy. Reservations are definitely recommended…We actually have had a few bigger groups that we just don’t have the room for. So lots of groups are out and about. And we’re kind of limiting how many we’re actually taking. So we have had to juggle a little bit, but we can usually get you in on a different evening,” she explained.

Businesses are having to turn people away due to being fully booked.

“I think Penticton has become a little bit of the palm springs of Canada, so many people are calling, especially on the weekends and the long weekends, looking for rooms. And unfortunately, we’re not even able to send them to other hotels because a lot of folks are just booked on those weekends,” Coles added.

And while some businesses are struggling with getting staff hired now that tourism season is back, others are prepped and ready to go.

“This is my ninth season here at Hillside. We have a very dedicated crew that’s actually knocking on my door in spring going, ‘When are we open?’ So it’s fantastic, they are ready…And it’s really, really nice to have those same faces come back every year,” Henderson said.

“We’re actually quite good for staff. I know it’s not easy, in lots of places. I’ve talked to a lot of colleagues in the industry, whether it be in the tasting room or restaurants and some people have been having some issues staffing up. Luckily, I did it in advance. I’m tight, but I’m there. If I had any less, it would be problematic,” Ziff explained.

The outlook for tourism is strong throughout the summer months, and even extending into fall.

“I joked with my wife today that I’ll probably see her in October. So I’m guessing it’s going to be right through till harvest too,” Ziff said.

Henderson added that everyone coming in is in a positive mood,

“I think everybody is really happy. The energy of everybody is almost that little bit of relief. And it’s kinda like getting back to normal. I think it feels good.”

Okanagan wineries taking pandemic seriously: WorkSafeBC

 

Wineries get thumbs up

WorkSafeBC is giving BC Interior wineries the thumbs up for their COVID-19 safety plans.

The provincial government agency conducted an on-site inspection blitz between May 10 and June 4.

The inspections and consultations confirmed that up-to-date COVID-19 safety plans were in place and implemented effectively, and controls are implemented to protect workers from COVID-19 transmission.

Officers were deployed to conduct on-site inspections, and occupational health and safety consultants contacted additional employers by phone to review employers’ obligations and COVID-19 safety plans. The focus was on key measures including occupancy limits, ensuring worker health checks designed to prevent sick workers entering workplaces are implemented, enforcing social distancing practices, and using barriers and masks where required.

The inspections focused on wineries, cideries, and craft breweries with tasting rooms:

  • Two prevention officers participated in the initiative
  • 48 inspections were conducted
  • 32 consultations were conducted
  • 100% of the inspections were conducted on-site
  • All inspections and consultations were conducted in the interior health region
  • 2% of inspections resulted in orders – two total orders were issued

Kelowna business taking plastics from the public to recycle into new products

 

A new way to recycle

The Rogerie has grown by rescuing plastics directly from landfills and transforming them into 100 per cent renewable products.

But starting Monday, the local business will start accepting clean household plastics from the public. Things like HTP (high technology plastic) or PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate glycol, a food-safe plastic) will be accepted and turned into new products. All you have to do is bring your washed plastics to their location at 103-460 Doyle Avenue, and they’ll do the rest.

“We’ll take it, wash it a second time to make sure it’s really clean, and then we’ll grind it up and use it in our injection molding machine,” said Angela Rogers, the co-founder of The Rogerie.

Currently Angela and her husband Brady sell products such as various planter pots, cups, stemless wine glasses, mugs and teapots and kitchen composters. Angela says the idea to start this business all came to fruition after their wedding.

“We knew we wanted to do something creative, and it was actually after our wedding that we saw how much plastic we had accumulated from gifts and moving so we knew we wanted to do something with it all. We got a little 3D printer that Brady had, and he designed a little planter and we took it to the farmers market. We received a ton of positive reactions and it kind of just grew from there,” said Angela.

The Rogerie previously operated a pop-up location at Orchard Park for six weeks last year, but have now found a permanent home at the downtown Innovation Centre.

Angela mentioned that they have several products in the works that they are putting the final touches on, and to keep an eye out for them this summer. You can see the 3D printers in action starting next week at the store when they add a dozen machines.

Slower or reduced service likely due to worker shortages this summer

 

Summer of self-serve

Housekeeping only on arrival and departure at hotels, more self-serve options at restaurants, and smaller menus.

These are some of the impacts visitors to Kelowna and other tourism destinations in the Thompson-Okanagan should brace for this summer.

“Businesses will be struggling to give you the service they want to give you,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, Acting President and CEO of Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association. “Just relax and enjoy the moment and understand it might be a little bit of a slower service than you expected in the past.”

“I think there’s been a fair amount of anxiety, especially in the last couple of weeks”, said Arun Subramanian of go2HR. The company helps recruit employees for the tourism industry in the Okanagan. “There’s a huge pent-up demand out there, so they’re going to start seeing visitors coming probably in droves, as the expectation goes, especially in some of the resorts.”

To attract workers, businesses are going to have to get creative.

“Are you offering flexibility for your workforce? You often create work schedules that are beneficial to the business or the employer, but are you creating work schedules that can be a little more beneficial to your employees?” asked Subramanian. “Sometimes it may mean using two employees for one job because it will help you attract people who can work a certain number of hours.”

He also suggests restaurants consider more self-serve options and reducing their menus to take pressure off the kitchen.

Walker-Matthews advises people to be prepared for reduced service. “You might not get housekeeping every day when you’re travelling this year, because it just might not be possible.

The shortages are right across the board. “It’s front-desk, housekeeping, cooks, all the back-of-the-house jobs,” she said. “As well as when we talk to our wine industry, they’re having difficulty in the wine centres getting people to do tasting rooms.”

City of Kelowna asks residents to water young neighbourhood trees

 

Help out thirsty trees

With an unprecedented drought hitting the Central Okanagan this spring, the City of Kelowna is asking residents to help out local thirsty trees.

Earlier this week, Agriculture Canada declared a “severe drought” in the Central Okanagan, and local flora may be having a tough time.

“We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented drought and not all of our trees are irrigated,” said Andrew Hunsberger, urban forestry supervisor with the City of Kelowna.

“We’re asking homeowners to help us care for the young trees planted on streets and boulevards near their homes. By working together to keep these trees healthy, we can all do our part to grow and nurture our urban tree canopy in Kelowna.”

Hunsberger says young trees need about a bucket of water every week for the first three years of their lives, before their roots extend deep enough in the ground.

“Water is a precious resource and we need to think carefully about how and when we use it,” said Hunsberger. “However, Kelowna’s tree canopy is also an incredibly important part of our city and will pay us back with shade that will reduce water use in the future.”

The city is asking residents to slowly release water at the base of young trees for at least 15 minutes one to two times per week, during cooler times of the day.

Hunsberger notes the city typically does not get enough rain to keep trees hydrated.

Penticton Art Gallery hosting digital art exhibit by Buffy Sainte-Marie

 

A pioneer of digital art

The Penticton Art Gallery will soon be showcasing the works of an Indigenous legend this summer in a digital media exhibition.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter, musician, Oscar-winning composer, visual artist, and social activist. Her team approached the art gallery for a show after seeing the success of the Bob Ross show that ran last summer.

“They were interested to know just how that sort of came about and then Paul was talking to them about Buffy. And that just sort of snowballed into this exhibition,” McKaila Ferguson, collections and communications manager for the Penticton Art Gallery said.

“So there’s a lot of discussion still happening about some of these things. But essentially, we’re getting 17 of her digital artworks and in the exhibition will also be a fair bit of memorabilia.”

Ferguson explained that digital artwork is created on computers, where artists use different applications to take photos of something and then manipulate the image, or start from scratch completely to create the piece, which is then printed on to paper or onto canvas.

“We’re really excited to be showing her artwork…All the pieces are huge, they’re larger than life.”

The gallery also plans to paint the exhibition walls a dark colour to make the pieces pop.

“A lot of her art is inspired by her activism and her music, so she’ll be hand writing some lyrics to her songs as well, which will be included in the exhibition,” Ferguson explained.

“Hopefully, we can do some digital or in person programming with Buffy, at the end of the exhibition. But of course it’s all COVID dependent. It’s really hard to plan this year, so we’ll see what happens at that. But we’re really excited to be showcasing some of her artwork and letting people know that among the many, many things she does, she is also a very talented artist.”

The exhibit will also include pieces that discuss residential schools.

“A large part of our mandate is to be working with local Indigenous people and to be promoting Indigenous artwork,” Ferguson said.

“We try to bring bigger national issues around Indigenous topics to Penticton for discussion. In the summer we often have exhibitions, with sort of not really a heavier theme, but they get you thinking about something.”

Limited edition prints of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s visual work reside in permanent collections in the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, First Nations University, and the Tucson Art Museum, and have been exhibited at the Glenbow Museum, the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the Isaacs Gallery, the Walter Phillips Gallery, the Gallery for Contemporary and Indigenous Art (Tuscon), The Winnipeg Art Gallery and Gurevich Fine Art (Winnipeg), and private collections throughout North America.

The exhibit titled, A Survey of Works by a Pioneer of Digital Art: Buffy Sainte-Marie, will run from July 3 to Sept. 11 in the main gallery.

The gallery will be open seven days a week, Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

West Kelowna country singer raises $45K with ‘Music Fest MS’

 

$45K for Music Fest MS

West Kelowna country singer Ben Klick’s third-annual “Music Fest MS” raised $45,360 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

In three years the event has now raised $115,142.

Due to COVID-19, the show was moved online to YouTube and streamed live for viewers across Canada.

Klick, founder and organizer, who also hosted and played the event, reached out to a star-studded lineup of country music artists and speakers spanning across Canada and the United States to take part in the event including Juno Award Winner, Jess Moskaluke, CCMA and Platinum selling artist, Aaron Goodvin, and others.

Klick was inspired to organize and perform Music Fest MS after his father’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in June 2018.

“Once I received the news, I knew I wanted to do something to help. My family has always been extremely close, and it’s the least I could do to give back when they’ve all supported me over the years,” Klick said.

Donations to Music Fest MS stay open until October, the replay of the show is on Ben Klick’s YouTube channel, and you can learn more at www.benklick.com/musicfestms.

Public hearing into short-term rental bylaws shows overall support, but specific concerns and questions raised

 

Concerns over rental bylaw

If public reaction is any indication, it appears the City of West Kelowna is on the right track when it comes to a proposed set of bylaws which would regulate, and finally make legal, short-term rentals within the city.

Residents were given a chance to speak out for or against the contemplated bylaws during a second public hearing Tuesday evening.

The second public hearing was needed after several issues raised during the first public hearing prompted significant changes to the set of bylaws.

Chief among those was the ability to have short-term rentals on a property that also includes a secondary suite or carriage house, or both.

Other changes removed bed and breakfast operators from the bylaw altogether, increasing the number of people allowed within a short-term rental, and cleaning up some of the language contained within the proposed bylaws.

Many of the handful of people who chose to call into the public hearing Tuesday applauded city council for listening to the people.

“You have heard the voice of the people,” says Shirley Pacholok, a member of the Casa Loma Residents Association.

Another speaker commended council for a “reasonable and measured approach,” and for making a dramatic course correction after the first public hearing.

While public sentiment was generally supportive, there were still some concerns and questions seeking clarity.

One speaker wondered if he would be able to enter the short-term pool even though his neighbourhood is not on city sewer, something which seemed to be contrary to proposed bylaws.

Planning manager Brent Magnan suggested those on septic would have to prove to the city their septic system could handle the added load.

There were also concerns about having to be present when the home was being rented. One speaker suggested when his family goes camping on weekends they rent out their home while another said he lives in his home eight months of the year.

They were told those types of site-specific questions would be resolved through the licensing process.

Staff also suggested issues such as enforcement and neighbourhood caps would be dealt with at a later date.

Michael Layland was the lone caller vehemently opposed to the short-term rental bylaws.

“I believe maintaining affordability and long-term rental availability ought to be a higher priority than increasing tourism as it relates to the proposed amended bylaw,” he said.

“Specifically, I do not support the proposed amended bylaw which would allow the use of carriage houses for short-term rentals. I cannot support the continued construction of detached dwellings solely for short-term rental use in residential neighbourhoods.”

City council is expected to debate the final reading and adoption of short-term rental bylaws later this month, and if adopted, the licensing process would begin shortly thereafter.

Chief Administrative Officer Paul Gipps suggested compliance enforcement would have to begin immediately after the bylaws are adopted, and expects council will be asked to review the success of the bylaws after the first year.

Penticton anticipating Air Canada flights to return in late June

 

Air Canada flights returning

Air Canada will soon resume service to the Penticton airport after a lengthy pause.

As of June 28, the airline is expected to be offering four flights per week out of Vancouver in the evening to Penticton, overnighting in town, then flying out to Vancouver the next morning. Arrivals in Penticton are planned for Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday, with flights to Vancouver on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

The flights from Vancouver to Penticton will leave at 7:40 p.m. and arrive at 8:37 p.m., and the reverse flight will leave at 6:30 a.m. and arrive at 7:27 a.m.

It is welcome news to local Member of Parliament Richard Cannings, who has long been a champion of the regional airport and the importance of flights to and from Vancouver.

“These flights are vital to tourism and commerce in the region. As we move cautiously back to our new normal, convenient flights to the Lower Mainland are important for residents and businesses alike,” Cannings said.

The flights were due to resume June 1 but were pushed back to the end of the month due to travel restrictions within B.C.

Also in Cannings’ South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding, the Castlegar airport will be welcoming Air Canada service again, three times a week to and from Vancouver.

Air Canada director for government relations Serge Corbeil said the plan is to add a Wednesday and Thursday flight from Vancouver to Penticton in August, then move to daily service after Labour Day depending on demand and future travel services.

E-bus joins school bus fleet in School District 67

 

First school e-bus arrives

School District 67 has added its first ever electronic school bus to its fleet, part of a longer-term plan to transition completely away from diesel-powered vehicles.

“The bus will be at our Summerland Yard. We are working with Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement to finalize the permit as a school bus, and have a charging station built,” said Doug Gorcak, Director of Facilities for School District No. 67.

“We anticipate it will be on the road doing a Summerland school route beginning next week.

The bus cost $363,216, but the school district only needed to pay $31,366 due to the Ministry of Education and Clean Energy B.C. kicking in some funding.

At full charge, the bus can cover approximately 220 kilometres and regenerates power while driving.