Tourism down, but not out
Okanagan tourism is suffering from poor air quality.
“We actually sent out a survey to about 90 of what we call ‘accommodators’ so that’s campgrounds, hotels, BnB’s, that kind of thing. About three-quarters of them reported that they had experienced at least one cancellation due specifically to the smoke,” reports Lisanne Ballantyne, President and CEO of Tourism Kelowna. “Just under half of them had experienced a shortening of a reservation once the guest had arrived here. So somebody had come through with their booking but once they got here and experienced the smoke, they decided to take a couple days off.”
Not all is lost yet. Just look at 2017, when flooding and smoke were such big deterrents.
“This year is really similar to last year. We came into June(’17), about to have the strongest year on record and then the smoke hit. We rebounded. We had higher numbers than usual in September, October, November, December. Revenue was actually on par with previous years,” says Ballantyne.
With back-to-back years of devastating BC wildfires and forecasts pointing to more ahead, it may be time for those within the tourism industry to start looking changes. Ballantyne explains, “Whether you’re a small owner-operator, lakefront, or you’re a larger hotel, Kelowna is weather-dependant. What we need to do, and what we’ve got in our business plan is, ‘How do we become a 4-season destination?’”
For the time being, while thick smoke blankets the Okanagan, Tourism Kelowna has put their digital media campaigns on hold.
“We’re not even trying to attract new people. We don’t want them to see the smoke, the way it is now and have a first-time experience be this one.”