Wildfires boosting Kamloops hotel stays while tourists fill rooms in Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Wildfires boosting Kamloops hotel stays while tourists fill rooms in Okanagan

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
July 23, 2021 - 7:00 AM

The Okanagan tourism industry has recovered to pre-pandemic levels despite smoky skies and a growing number of wildfires.

“The whole province is in varying states of busyness,” Ellen Walker-Matthews, the new CEO for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, told iNFOnews.ca.

“The Thompson-Okanagan, and the Okanagan particularly, has seen a real resurgence of visitation and we haven’t actually seen that drop off even with the fire and smoke at the moment. People are still coming. We might get a few cancellations and they’re quickly replaced by other people. Post-COVID has really unleashed people’s desire to get out of their house and their community and go travel.”

Accommodation was booked solid in Osoyoos when the Nk'Mip Creek fire hit on Monday. It has forced evacuations and a call from Mayor Sue McKortoff for tourists to stay home so locals have access to food and accommodation when evacuating.

READ MORE: Tourists cautioned to think twice before heading toward B.C. towns struggling with wildfires

Sicamous and Salmon Arm were also very busy when the Two Mile Road fire hit there on Tuesday, Walker-Matthews said.

READ MORE: Out of control wildfire near Sicamous grows to 800 hectares

Kamloops hotels are also full but many of those are evacuees from areas where numerous wildfires are burning.

“Kamloops still has a tourist aspect there but they’re definitely filled with a lot of evacuees,” Walker-Matthews said. “They had all of Sun Peaks to evacuate as well. Sun Peaks had just opened and was doing really well. They don’t actually have smoke and fire but they have the road closure up to Sun Peaks so a lot of people have ended up being in Kamloops.”

READ MORE: Embleton Mountain wildfire near Sun Peaks grows to 290 hectares

The picture is quite different in the Central Okanagan.

“It’s full but it’s full of tourists,” Walker-Matthews said, noting that some rooms may still be available but, anecdotally, she’s heard that its full.

Given that COVID devastated the industry last year, the tourism association is comparing statistics to 2019, which was a record year.

“We were about nine per cent below 2019 after the July long weekend, as a region over all,” Walker-Matthews said.

The advantage the Thompson-Okanagan region has over some other parts of B.C. is that the vast majority of visitors are from B.C. and Alberta.

The Highway 5 and Highway 97 corridors north from Kamloops, for example, are much more dependent on U.S. and other foreign travellers so they are not seeing the same kind of rebound from COVID, she said. The U.S. land border remains closed to non-essential travellers until at least Aug. 21.

Walker-Matthews was appointed CEO of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association yesterday, replacing Glenn Mandziuk who resigned after 13 years in the job.


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