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.”

Penticton businesses finding innovative ways to keep going during the pandemic

Businesses get creative

“Four seasons of fun” is new a collaboration between Castanet and Travel Penticton showcasing what Penticton has to offer all year round. Watch for it every Monday morning.

Penticton is home to some pretty creative local business owners who have come up with innovative solutions to continue providing exceptional service (and a sense of normalcy) to customers as the COVID-19 continues into its second wave globally.

Pure Gym & Juicery owner Vanessa Jahnke has had to think of many innovative solutions in order to keep her gym safely running as the province continues to enforce a variety of social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had been running spin in the east ballroom at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was phenomenal,” she said. “The space is 10,000 square feet, so we had 10 feet of space between each bike which was amazing.”

But recent orders enacted by the provincial government which require high-intensity workout classes to cease quickly put an end to that. Luckily, Jahnke knew the solution, having faced a similar situation in March 2020.

“We have such a spin community (here),” she said. “Everyone wanted to continue moving their bodies, so having them at home was a good solution.”

Last year, as the first wave of COVID-19 began to spread globally, Jahnke rented out her spin bikes to class members and launched an online Zoom class for participants to follow along at home.

“It was good. We did it for two months,” she recalled.

Now, well into the second wave of COVID-19, Jahnke has several innovative ways to bring spin classes safely into the home for those who wish to continue, renting out bikes to those interested once again.

“It’s really important for us to stay connected to our community,” she said. “We’re all kind of struggling together to get through this. In March, we did a Facebook group. This second time (now), our software provider created a live streaming portal which is so much better and much better quality.”

Signing up for a membership, she added, is now done completely online, a new feature for Pure Gym & Juicery.

And of course, the gym is still open for day-to-day fitness and low-intensity classes such as yoga, with strict social distancing and cleaning measures in place.

“It’s been interesting, constantly pivoting,” she said. “It’s been wild.”

And getting through it? Jahnke said this past year hasn’t been possible without her biggest, most important asset: the help of her dedicated, hardworking staff.

“We have the most incredible team that has been so constantly rolling with the punches. We could not do it without them,” she said.

It’s a sentiment Tratto Pizzeria co-owner Christopher Royal echoes.

“I’ve got a staff that’s loyal,” he said. “It’s amazing and a blessing.”

The restaurant, well-known in the community for their brick oven baked pizzas and unique wine menu, had to adapt to a world of online ordering, take-out, delivery and pickup shortly after opening in the fall of 2019.

Royal said delivery and takeout hadn’t originally been a plan for the restaurant, since food is enjoyed best within the first 15 minutes. That meant the team had to quickly adapt to the new world of delivery and take out while making a fresh pizza in five minutes not only for those orders, but also for customers inside the restaurant.

“The max we can do is about 50 pizzas an hour,” he said. “That’s pretty quick.”

That’s where the loyal staff comes in, to make it all possible.

And sending a pizza home, he added, means not cutting it into slices since “the integrity of the pie survives better” for the trip home that way, and makes it easier for customers to give the pizza a quick reheat in the oven when they get home.

The team is now working around tweaking the recipe just slightly, in a way where taste and customers’ favourites will not be altered, in order for delivery and take-out to continue well past COVID-19.

The restaurant is also looking into updating its software so online orders can be placed through their own website, since the original software didn’t include that feature as the team never thought they would need it.

“We’re going to adapt,” Royal finished. And similar to what Jahnke said, “it’s pivoting.”

That pivoting in restaurants has also seen the rise in digital menus for customers, with Slackwater Brewing quick to pick up on the new feature to keep customers safe while dining in.

Customers are able to open their camera on their phone and scan a QR code available at each table, which will then launch the restaurant’s menu for the customer to view, eliminating one more surface to have to touch and also cutting down on paper usage.

Of course, menus are still available for those who may have forgotten their phone at home or lost the last percentage of battery upon arrival.

For Freedom Bike Shop on Penticton’s Main Street, shop manager Josh Shulman said he and the team found quite the innovative solution to help solve wait times for customers lining up down the street as the popularity in outdoor sports such as cycling boomed in the South Okanagan.

“The idea came from a few other bike shops we’ve seen around North America,” he said. “We just kind of saw it as an opportunity.”

That opportunity? Take common needed items such as tire tubes, brake pads, water bottles and a variety of other items and make them available in a vending machine outside the shop.

“There’s no sense in waiting in a line for five or ten minutes when you can just tap your card and grab and go,” Shulman said.

“It’s definitely been seeing some usage. I think it’ll be very busy and very popular when actual riding season hits. People need something on a Sunday or after 5:30, (it’s there).”

And for those concerned, Shulman says not to worry: he’s confident in the safety of the vending machine which features no cash (with a tap feature and Apple pay option only) and is encased in heavy-duty steel with a security camera monitoring it at all times.

“It’s right downtown, so you’re going to have to make a huge ruckus and cause a pretty big scene in order to try and break into it.”

Learn more at www.visitpenticton.com and on social @visitpenticton