‘Cautiously optimistic’: Okanagan tourism operators prepare for unofficial start to summer

Click to play video: 'Weekend to mark unofficial start to summer'
Weekend to mark unofficial start to summer
Following a difficult year for the South Okanagan tourism sector last summer, tourism operators are preparing for the unofficial start of summer this weekend. As our Taya Fast reports, tourism leaders are cautiously optimistic about the entire season – May 17, 2024

The May long weekend is the unofficial start to summer in the Okanagan, when several tourism attractions open for the season and hotels begin to fill up.

Diana Stirling owns and operates several tourist attractions in Penticton, B.C., including LocoLanding Adventure Park, Cherry on Top Shake Shop, and Lickity Splitz.

“We’ve had the best start ever to our tourist season with the heat, it almost seemed like it was summer early. It was unbelievable. LocoLanding was busy, our ice cream shops were super busy,” said Stirling.

“We were seeing numbers that we don’t see in May, which is phenomenal. And I’m just so cautiously optimistic that that is an indication of how the entire season will go.”

Click to play video: 'Tourism Kelowna supports legislation on short term rentals but hopes there are exemptions'
Tourism Kelowna supports legislation on short term rentals but hopes there are exemptions

The South Okanagan tourism sector was significantly impacted by a temporary travel ban last year, in response to a wildfire in West Kelowna.

Story continues below advertisement

“We lost almost a quarter of our season unexpectedly and we’ve never encountered that before, not even during COVID did we encounter that, so it was very shocking for us and for the majority of tourism operators,” said Stirling.

“We were more cautious on our reinvestment in this season. So, for the 2024 season, we had to put on hold some of our reinvestment decisions that we had hoped that we would be making. We’re doing our best where everything looks amazing, and we’ve introduced a few new things at our at our locations. But I think that at the end of the day, that’s what had us.”

The order was issued on Aug. 19 of last year, banning non-essential stays at local hotels and campgrounds. That travel ban was lifted days later.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.
For news impacting Canada and around the world, sign up for breaking news alerts delivered directly to you when they happen.

Get breaking National news

For news impacting Canada and around the world, sign up for breaking news alerts delivered directly to you when they happen.
By providing your email address, you have read and agree to Global News' Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Local hotel operators say they are still dealing with the fallout of the temporary travel ban and increase in wildfire activity.

“When they put that order out last year for those four days it really had a significant impact on our industry. A lot of the accommodation sector was not full, but we were sitting quite healthy, but everybody that we had on the books had to leave,” said Penticton Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre General Manager Brannigan Mosses.

“So, there’s a hesitation behind not only like do we go and bite the bullet, do we go and make our vacation plans … when we know that the Okanagan is seeing more of the perception of more and more smoke and forest fires. So, there is definitely a shorter booking window than we’ve ever seen in the past.”

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'South Okanagan tourism hard hit by travel ban'
South Okanagan tourism hard hit by travel ban

Following the travel ban, tourism leaders called on the provincial government for better communication when decisions like these are being made.

“I just attended the BC Hotel Association Summit (BCHA) and I do know that the BC government and the BC Hotel Association are working very closely this year to make sure that they’re doing their due diligence so that before making these decisions and putting them into play that they’re kind of looking at the big picture here,” said Mosses.

“Whether or not there are accommodations before turning tourism away. This is a critical industry to our province.”

Despite some hesitation, the Penticton Lakeside Resort is expecting a strong start to the season.

Following the May long weekend, this time of year is one of the most important windows for the tourism sector.

Story continues below advertisement

“We have such a short window as tourism operators to make the business and to employ all of our staff,” said Stirling.

“This year, we have 140 teenagers with us, and we’re super excited about all of them and their first job with us and so we really want to make sure that we can keep them employed for the entire year.”

Click to play video: 'Wildfire risk could mean early tourism season'
Wildfire risk could mean early tourism season

Tourism operators echoed the optimism as they prepare to hopefully welcome thousands to the Okanagan during peak season.

“From a tourism perspective; we are so open arms and welcoming to the tourists that choose Penticton and area as their destination. We’re so thankful for that. We are still the most beautiful destination in my eyes for people to visit and we couldn’t be happier for the season ahead,” said Stirling.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re getting all of our amenities up and running. We have a new watersport rental tenant that’s come on board. We have our restaurants, patios open, the beach is open starting this weekend. Just looking forward to welcoming guests because that’s what this industry is all about, giving people a great place to stay to make great memories,” said Mosses.

Click to play video: 'Smoky long weekend didn’t deter tourism in Kelowna'
Smoky long weekend didn’t deter tourism in Kelowna

Sponsored content