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Okanagan tourism industry strategizing to help soften coronavirus fallout

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Tourism operators are bracing for the fallout from the Coronavirus. Here in the Okanagan--those who rely on tourism dollars fear the impact will be significant. It has tourism organizations strategizing on how to help soften the blow. Klaudia Van Emmerik has that story.

The Okanagan tourism industry is closely watching the developments of the coronavirus pandemic, wondering how it may impact the region and its businesses.

While some are nervous, others are “cautiously optimistic” outbreaks abroad might encourage Canadian travellers to stay close to home.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. urges end to large gatherings, international travel, including to U.S.

The situation has tourism organizations strategizing on how to help soften the blow from any COVID-19 fallout.

The president of Tourism Kelowna told Global News that if the current situation persists the marketing body may focus more of its advertising budget on the B.C. and Alberta markets, targeting visitors who can drive to the Okanagan.

READ MORE: How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

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It isn’t alone, a spokesperson for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association says. Many tourism-based organizations are redirecting their marketing dollars to focus on domestic marketing campaigns that encourage British Columbians and Albertans to travel within the province.

“We have already started strategizing with Destination B.C, Destination Canada, and the provincial government on what the future looks like,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice-president of the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association.

“I know that already Destination B.C. has redirected their marketing dollars to a domestic marketing campaign…..they are redirecting their funds to encourage British Columbians to travel in the province and Albertans to travel here.”

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Focusing on the domestic market could work to the Okanagan’s advantage according to Dale Sivucha, the president of the Kelowna Hotel Motel Association.

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“Right now 80 per cent of our business in Kelowna is coming from those two markets of British Columbia and Alberta,” he said.

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Sivucha is among those who think there could be a silver lining “because with the downturn in international travel folks may want to come to a less populated area.”

He said, right now, it is business as usual for his members who are taking additional cleaning precautions to ensure travellers have a safe trip.

However, some local businesses are more concerned about the impact of the coronavirus.

Andre Thomas, who owns the Memphis Blues BBQ House in Kelowna, said the situation is making the business “a little bit nervous,” particularly because many major sports leagues have paused or suspended their seasons.

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Kelowna is set to host the Memorial Cup, a major junior hockey tournament featuring the best teams from the Canadian Hockey League, in May.

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So far the host Kelowna Rockets have said planning for the event is still moving forward, but Thomas is worried the event which is “a big boost to local businesses” could be impacted.

“We hope that [the Memorial Cup] will continue but it remains to be seen,” he said.

MORE: University Cup men’s national hockey tournament goes ahead despite COVID-19 sport shutdown

“We hope that even if there is no international tourism…that people will stay close [so] that we will still get traffic from Alberta, from Vancouver and that locals will realize that they still need to get out locally and support local businesses.”

– with files from Klaudia Van Emmerik