One indicator of the strength of the tourism industry in the Okanagan is what’s happening at the Kelowna International Airport.
“When we talk air traffic, in 2016 it grew 8.6 per cent overall,” Airport Director Sam Samaddar said. “140,000 passengers in a single year. Those are remarkable numbers.”
Tourism Kelowna collects data on how many hotel rooms are filled at any given time and those numbers are up too, climbing about 3.5 per cent over 2015.
“Most importantly, we see increases in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall, and that’s Tourism Kelowna’s strategy; to really build on those shoulder season months,” Jennifer Horsnell, director of sales with Tourism Kelowna, said.
New annual arrival statistics show that in 2016, B.C. saw a 12.3 per cent increase in international visitors.
Several factors are being credited for the increase in tourism from outside the country; a low Canadian dollar, international marketing of B.C. to the world and increased air access.
At YLW, Air Canada’s new direct flight between Brisbane and Vancouver is helping attract more Australians to the valley.
“We’re meeting those flights with larger A319 aircraft from Vancouver to Kelowna. On some of those flights 40 per cent of passengers are destined for the Okanagan,” Samaddar said.
Both Westjet and Air Canada are increasing the size and frequency of flights to Toronto as well, which is another airline hub.
“The reason Toronto is so important, especially the link to the international component, is that one stop links Kelowna to 50 destinations globally,” Samaddar continued.
The airport is also in negotiations with its major airlines to begin operations into Europe. Kelowna International Airport numbers show demand is high enough to warrant non-stop European flights once a week, at least during peak summer and winter seasons.