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Coronavirus: Okanagan bed and breakfast operators facing uncertain season

Bed and Breakfast operators in the Okanagan have been hard hit by the pandemic

It’s believed by many to be the backbone of B.C.’s tourism industry: The bed and breakfast sector.

But bed and breakfast operators in the Okanagan are facing a very uncertain season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We didn’t even have one single soul for the May long weekend, and typically that kicks us off,” said Sherry Cote, owner of A Vista Villa Couples Retreat.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Shuswap experiences unusual long weekend as tourists urged to stay away

Cote has been in business for more than two decades, and while her business has been through all kinds of situations, this is unlike anything she’s encountered.

“We’ve experienced so many other crises here in the Okanagan; floods, fires, 911, but this is the end all, be all, really,” Cote told Global News.

“People are so frightened, a lot of my regular guests would be able to come and stay except for the fact that there’s nothing to do once they get here.”

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A Vista Villa has remained open throughout the pandemic, but there’s been no guests.

“They’ve cancelled all of the reservations right up until mid-June,” Cote said. “All cancelled.”

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Those cancellations have resulted in big revenue losses.

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“Thousands of dollars,” said Cote.

She’s far from being alone, as most, if not, all bed and breakfast operators have been financially hit hard.

Karen Goetjen owns Ogopogo Bed and Breakfast near downtown Kelowna.

She, too, is missing out on thousands of dollars.

“It’s my livelihood,” she said. “This is what I do for a living.”

READ MORE: Kenney government letting Alberta hotels keep tourism levy amounts to help industry weather pandemic

With so many cancellations, and to err on the side of caution, Goetjen has shut down operations temporarily, with a possible re-opening in August.

“It’s hard when you work this hard and build up a reputation, then all of a sudden it’s gone, just gone,” Goetjen told Global News.

Bed and breakfast operations were never mandated to shut down, but, according to the Accredited B.C. Accommodations Association, out of the roughly 150 professional bed and breakfasts in the Central Okanagan, more than half chose to shut their doors temporarily.

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Now the prediction is some of those may never re-open again.

“There might be some bed and breakfasts that don’t have enough reservations on the books to feel that they want to spend the time, money and effort to open, so they’ll use this as their final year,” said association president Sue Willis.

“Or they’ll just say they had a good run, that this is the time for them to have an exit plan.”

Hard times for the B.C. hospitality industry
Hard times for the B.C. hospitality industry

WorkSafeBC has come out with safety guidelines for all accommodations to follow, but Wiilis said she hopes that more bed and breakfast specific protocols will also be announced.

“It would be nice to see that they address that industry specifically, rather than sort of lump us into the hotel sector,” Willis said.

“Most of it is common sense, and what we’re already doing anyways, it’s just a matter of if is there something more that we are expected to be doing.”

At the A Vista Villa Couples Retreat, Cote knows this coming season will be unlike any other she’s ever seen.

“I think it will be a long shot to expect 50 per cent of what we typically get for our summer,” she said.

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