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Coronavirus: Okanagan tourism on upswing despite pandemic

Downtown Kelowna looked busy Friday afternoon, resembling a typical summer day as locals and tourists give businesses a much-needed boost.
Downtown Kelowna looked busy Friday afternoon, resembling a typical summer day as locals and tourists give businesses a much-needed boost. Global News

Tourism-reliant businesses in the Okanagan have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, but things are stating to turn around for many.

And in some cases, in a big way.

“This hotel is fully occupied this weekend,” said Dale Sivucha, general manager of the Coast Capri Hotel in Kelowna. “It’s come on a little faster than I thought, but we are prepared for it.”

Read more: Okanagan tourism industry strategizing to help soften coronavirus fallout

Sivucha, who is also the president of the Kelowna Hotel-Motel Association, told Global News that bookings for local accommodations started coming in strong as the school year wrapped up.

They also started coming in just ahead of phase three of B.C.’s restart plan, which went into effect June 24 and allows for travel within the province.

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“The booking pace has grown exponentially in the past couple of weeks,” Sivucha said. “Hotel reservations grew overnight almost.”

Phase 3 means British Columbians can now make plans to travel within province
Phase 3 means British Columbians can now make plans to travel within province

Sandra and Bert Steur are among the many British Columbians currently on a “mini-vacation” as they called it.

The Chilliwack couple said they came to Kelowna for a four-day stay.

“First time in a few months we’ve been able to leave town and get out and do stuff,” Sandra Steur said.

The couple said they have been doing a lot of activities outdoors.

“We just saw the trestle bridges halfway, a little bit of hiking, see some parks and stuff,” Bert Steur said “We love nature.”

Kelowna’s Bernard Avenue businesses prepare for street closure
Kelowna’s Bernard Avenue businesses prepare for street closure

Downtown Kelowna was busy on Friday afternoon, resembling a typical summer day in the Okanagan.

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“We’ve had fantastic support from the local community with the eased restrictions in phase three, as well with the people coming downtown and visiting from out of town,” said Tyler Regus, vice-president of marketing for Craft Beer Market. “We’re seeing a lot of people from out of town that are visiting us.”

Regus said local clientele, along with tourists, have been very good for Craft’s bottom line the last little while.

“We are fairly close to where we were at this time last year in sales,” Regus said.

Read more: Kelowna approves plan to close streets, expand patio space

Restaurants along downtown’s main street also received a big boost from the city, which has closed Bernard Avenue for July and August to allow for bigger outdoor patios.

The additional outdoor space helps compensate for reduced capacity inside due to social-distancing measures.

“The restaurant industry was one of the first to get hit when COVID came down and we were one of the last to be able to open,” Regus said. “So it’s great to see these restaurants coming back.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry on masks on transit and crowd size in B.C.
Dr. Bonnie Henry on masks on transit and crowd size in B.C.

Boat rental companies including Meag’s BBQ Boats are also seeing business picking up.

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“It was slow at first, but now as the weather is getting better. I am seeing a lot more customers booking in, so, yeah, numbers are going up,” said Alan Doan, operations manager for Maeg’s BBQ Boats.

According to many tourism operators, the majority of visitors are coming from the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley areas.

Tourism operators hope the trend of B.C. visitors flocking to the Okanagan continues as the tourism season kicks into, what’s typically, high gear.