Big White is anticipating travel and tourism will open before the weekend - InfoNews

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Big White is anticipating travel and tourism will open before the weekend

Image Credit: CheckMate Artisanal Winery
June 16, 2020 - 6:00 PM

The man in charge of Big White Ski Resort told Kelowna Chamber of Commerce members to prepare for an influx of tourists from other provinces this weekend.

During a Zoom webinar on tourism today, June 16, Michael J. Ballingall, the resort’s senior vice-president, said he thinks B.C. will open and encourage fellow Canadians to travel to B.C.

“Prepared is 48 hours from now,” Ballingall said. “My bet is, before the weekend, (provincial health officer) Dr. Bonnie (Henry) is going to go to Phase 3 and the borders are going to open and the cars are going to fill up with gas and they’re going to come here. Let’s be prepared for it.”

He praised the efforts of Dr. Henry and WorksafeBC in preparing B.C. businesses to move to the next phase of opening up after the COVID-19 lockdown.

He said he was pleased the Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to July 21 and likely even longer, even though 42 per cent of the accommodation at Big White is owned by Americans.

That simply opens up more opportunities for locals when ski season starts next fall.

Right now there is availability and deals on luxury accommodations on the hill for peak times like the Christmas season. Normally those are booked so long in advance by foreign visitors that locals don’t get a chance.

“It’s going to change the atmosphere and ambiance of the resort,” he said. “It’s going to be very unique and we’re going to experience this for the first time as hospitality providers.”

While Ballingall was upbeat, the statistics for the industry have been grim during COVID-19.

“Up to half of all accommodation providers and hospitality businesses say they may not survive the pandemic,” Marsha Walden, president and CEO of Destination B.C. said during the webinar, adding that the number of jobs in the industry has dropped from 166,000 to 44,000.

Locals are ready to welcome visitors, Jennifer Horsnell, director of business and destination development for Tourism Kelowna, added. But only certain kinds of visitors.

More than 80 per cent of residents surveyed by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association said they are comfortable or neutral when it came to welcoming visitors from within this region.

That drops only slightly for B.C. residents then falls to about 60 per cent for Western Canadian visitors. It drops significantly when it comes to visitors from the rest of Canada and plummets to about 10 per cent welcoming international visitors.

Hotels are already seeing a demand, Ballingall said.

The Hyatt hotel in Osoyoos is busy with bookings. Another operator has hired six people in three weeks to help with bookings and the Summerland Waterfront Resort is 70 to 80 per cent booked, Ballingall said.

“The people who are anticipating that Dr. Bonnie is going to allow us to go are getting in first,” Ballingall said. “You’re going to see British Columbians hopping in their cars and coming to places that they’re familiar with.”

He encouraged everyone to get on their social media pages and post welcoming photos of the Okanagan.

“The cherries have just come into blossom,” he said. “Trust me, someone from Saskatchewan dreams of that. Of being in the Okanagan and eating our cherries and eating our peaches and golfing on our golf courses and drinking our wines. Now they can do it in an atmosphere that is not as crowded as it used to be.”

There are a couple of keys to bringing more tourists into the region. One is safety and the other is hospitality. He predicted hostility toward out-of-province licence licence plates will disappear.

“Once we get told we can travel, I think everyone will calm down,” Ballingall said. “Right now, everybody’s a little bit nervous and that’s OK. But, let’s not make the mistake of not being hospitable because you think it’s groovy and cool not to be hospitable.”

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