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Coronavirus: Okanagan tourism operators brace for a likely dismal season

Tourism Kelowna launches Explore Kelowna campaign to help industry recover from pandemic

With so many businesses in the Okanagan relying on tourism dollars, the upcoming season is cause for concern for many entrepreneurs.

“It’s definitely going to impact our situation,” said Max Sloan, owner of the Pulp Fiction and Robbie Rare Books coffee shop. With the Americans coming across, they were coming across with a strong dollar and of course that’s not going to happen.”

With pandemic-related travel restrictions in place and people choosing to stay close to home, the season is shaping up to be unlike any other.

READ MORE: U.S. Memorial Day crowds small, subdued amid coronavirus pandemic

“This pandemic is something we have never seen before,” said Lisanne Ballantyne,president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna. “Our entire market — Kelowna and the whole area — has been through difficult times before.

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“In 2017, we had the high water kevels. In 2018, we had smoke from wildfires across the province, so I think that proves we are resilient but absolutely, this is never been seen before.”

Tourism Kelowna itself has been hard hit by the current health crisis, having to lay off 42 per cent of its staff and shut down some its programs and services.

“The impact of what’s happening right now is absolutely horribly tremendous, I’m sorry to say,” Ballantyne said.

“We recently did a Tourism Kelowna stakeholder survey last week and it’s showing that all of these wonderful tourism businesses are predicting drops in revenue sometimes from 60 up to 90 per cent for this summer. Hotel occupancy, right now are down at 11 per cent, just never been heard of before.

“It doesn’t bode well for the summer, to be honest.”

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To help B.C.’s tourism industry, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture announced on Monday a $10 million grant to be distributed among 59 destination marketing organizations, including Tourism Kelowna.

The money will help market B.C. and showcase the travel opportunities that exist within the province.

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According to the ministry, in 2018, British Columbians spent an estimated $6.7 billion on international travel, excluding day trips to the United States.

That’s almost as much as the $6.9 billion international travellers spent in B.C. the same year.

The ministry hopes that redirecting the money spent abroad towards the tourism sector in B.C. can be a strong first step towards recovery.

“I think the summer season is really going to depend on first, what are the health measures and the health orders in place,” Ballantyne said.

“If things go according to plan — and let’s keep our fingers crossed — so many more of the businesses surrounding the area are going to be open and I think what that means is something great for local tourism.

“‘Staycations’, that’s what it’s going to be all about this summer.”

Ballantyne said that for Kelowna residents and those across the valley, vacationing close to home shouldn’t be too hard.

“We have so much to offer here by way of hiking, indoor and outdoor attractions, we are saying enjoy that but within health and safety measures,” she said.

With this week being National Tourism Week, Tourism Kelowna is encouraging residents to support local businesses and show appreciation to those that work in the industry.

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