Okanagan tourism industry hopeful for strong summer

 

Although COVID-19 still very active across the Okanagan, both Tourism Kelowna and Travel Penticton are both hopeful and confident the region will be a hot spot for tourists this summer.

Despite the optimism, Tourism Kelowna’s Lisanne Ballantyne says it is do or die for many businesses.

“A number of them are in survival mode right now. This year, not even this summer, is going to be crucial if we are going to have long-term recovery. The businesses are trying to make up lost revenue from way back the last March,” Ballantyne said.

Tourism Kelowna says they aren’t worried about the number of visitors coming through, but they will be analyzing where visitors open their wallets.

“Oddly, last summer we had a very high number of visitors coming through even though they weren’t staying in traditional accommodations like hotels. We had a number of visitors staying with friends and family, or at campgrounds, but sadly they weren’t spending at the restaurants and they weren’t spending at the hotels,” Ballantyne stated.

Travel Penticton hopes that this summer will be very similar to 2020.

“We were quite fortunate to have good traffic here in Penticton over the months of July, August and September,” Travel Penticton’s executive director Thom Tischik said.

Although most of the normal events may not be running this summer, both Penticton and Kelowna say the Okanagan’s tourism staples still drive people to the region.

“We still have a lot of the great things to offer like wine, tasting and cycling and the great beaches,” Tischik added.

Ballantyne hopes those with a pent-up travel demand will choose late fall as an option to visit.

“We are one of those areas that has so much to offer a traveller,” she said.

TOURISM INDUSTRY THRILLED

Phase 3 of British Columbia’s reopening plan is a crucial step towards recovery for the tourism industry.

The tourism industry, among many others, felt the impact of COVID-19 immediately, but now that Canadian visitors are welcome and British Columbians are encouraged to explore the province, Tourism Kelowna is thrilled.

“The important and very valid health restrictions kicked in and so that meant that visitor flow absolutely stopped in our area,” says CEO of Tourism Kelowna Lisanne Ballantyne. “Phase 3 being announced was a watershed moment so it meant that it was now allowable for travel within the province.”

Ballantyne says the tour companies are ready to serve visitors and “it’s business as usual, but usual just looks a little bit different.”

“Everyone in the tourism business felt immediately, a sense of optimism because the phones started ringing, visitors started arriving, people started to book attractions, booking hotel rooms.”

And now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing and people are visiting, staff at Ogopogo Parasail are thrilled to welcome back customers safely.

“I think [COVID-19] made our opening a little bit slower, but once we were getting into the busier season, the restrictions were starting to lift anyways so it actually worked out quite well with the timing,” says Joel Devries with Ogopogo Parasail.

For parasailing, staff are operating two separate boats when it’s busy to ensure people are more distanced than they normally would be. Lifejackets are sanitized after each use and hand sanitizer is provided before and after the services.