Tourism Kelowna reflecting on lessons learned last year

With summer approaching, Tourism Kelowna is looking to build on some lessons it learned from the bad weather last year.

Despite having to deal with the spring flooding of Okanagan Lake, the society says tourists were still making plans to come to the city.

CEO Lisanne Ballantyne says things changed with the wildfires.

"What happened later in the season when the wildfire's - not here, but the smoke began affecting us - things got a little convoluted with the message. We lost control of the media message. People outside of the province of BC were only hearing that BC was burning," she said.

She says once the smoke from nearby wildfires started to hang around in town, the situation became over-exaggerated.

"We were struggling to catch up to explain to people that Kelowna was not burning, and that we certainly had all ammenities open, the hotels were available, and there was still a great visitor experience. So that was really our learning, is how can we make sure more accurate information is getting pumped out to our visitors, when we do have to react to weather conditions."

Ballantyne says many people cancelled their vacations all over the province.

"What we heard was it wasn't just the Kelowna area that was struggling, it was our tourism colleagues in Kamloops and Whistler. We were being too reactive, and just couldn't get behind that message of communicating more specifically where the fires were, and where the smoke was, and that we were still open for business," she said.

Despite the rough summer, Kelowna's hotel occupancy rate dipped less than 2% last year, after a banner year in 2016.