Tourism industry hopes B.C. residents will flock to Thompson-Okanagan once travel restrictions ease | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Tourism industry hopes B.C. residents will flock to Thompson-Okanagan once travel restrictions ease

Penticton's Skaha Beach is one of many reasons tourists normally visit the Okanagan. B.C. tourism associations are trying to convince the province to allow for more travel this summer, as long as it can be done safely in the face of COVID-19.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / City of Penticton

Tourists may have to make reservations to taste wine at Okanagan vineyards, and hotel rooms may have to sit vacant for a couple of days between guests, but there is some hope for tourism to get back on its feet in Thompson-Okanagan region this summer.

Those are just a couple of the ideas being tossed about as the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association joins with other similar associations across the province to prepare a reopening strategy for the B.C. government in the next week or so.

Since much of the tourist traffic comes to this region is by vehicle rather than air, there's some optimism that it will be an attractive place to visit as people are allowed to move further from their homes.

“The one thing that I think is very positive locally is British Columbians want to support the industry,” association vice-president Ellen Mathews told “I’ve seen a lot of research that says they want to travel. They want to get out of their houses. They want to go to restaurants."

“I think there’s a desire to go and do those things as soon as it’s safe to do so. But I think they’ll do it in their own province. They will probably go and do some of those trips that they’ve put off for a long time because they’ve gone further afield and maybe they’ll say ‘this is the year to spend my money closer to home.’”

Despite the almost total shutdown of hotels and tourist related businesses due to COVID-19, there are some bright spots for this region as far as tourism goes.

For one thing, the shutdown came at the quietest time of the year. The January to March period accounts for only 14 per cent of visitors and many of those would have been skiers prior to the lockdown and banning of international travel in mid-March.

That number is based on travel in 2014 and comes from the most recent Regional Tourism Profile on the association’s webpage.

The peak tourism season is July to September when 45 per cent of visitors come to the region with things like beaches, hiking and camping some of the biggest attractions.

The bad news, as far as timing goes, is that the spring – April through June – normally draws 24 per cent of the region’s visitors.

Also on the bright side, out of 3.7 overnight visits in 2014, 62 per cent were from B.C. and 24 per cent from other parts of Canada.

Mathews doesn’t expect international travel to pick up substantially until 2023 or 2024 so having an industry based heavily on B.C. and Alberta visitors is a plus.

While those are a couple of the optimistic aspects of tourism, the reality is that about 30 per cent of the businesses in the sector are expected to fold. Most at risk in this region are some northern operations that relied almost exclusively on international visitors.

A big question mark is whether concerts and sporting events will be allowed as they make up a significant percentage of the overnight trips to the region.

And this was the year when the industry was expected to boom. After two poor tourism seasons in 2017 and 2018 because of forest fires, things started to recover in 2019 and early bookings showed this year was going to be very strong.

The Tourism Industry Association of B.C., on behalf of the five tourism regions in the province, expects to make its pitch to the provincial government to reopen in the next week or so.

Right now, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is still saying people should stay home and not do any unnecessary travel. Mathews’ guess is that Henry won’t open things up until after the May long weekend.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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