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Canadian snowbirds flock west as winter looms, but space is at a premium

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WATCH: Canadian 'Snowbirds' flocking west for the winter – Oct 8, 2020

At this time of year, spaces in Saanichton’s Oceanside RV Resort would normally be starting to empty out.

But the Vancouver Island RV park, which is open year-round, is seeing an off-season boom unlike anything that’s come before.

Not only are all 183 spots booked out, but more than 100 people are on a wait list to get in.

Read more: Canadian snowbirds’ plans to head south for winter derailed due to coronavirus

The reason: With the U.S. border closed due to COVID-19, Canadian snowbirds are flocking as far southwest as they can, hoping to escape the coming winter.

Karen Stevens and her husband checked into Oceanside this time last year, and had intended to head south in April. When COVID hit, they extended their stay, and as summer drew to a close, they were able to extend it again.

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Canadian snowbirds flocking to B.C. this winter – Sep 3, 2020

“Things are tight, this place just all of a sudden just started filling up more and more — it sat empty when COVID was really in its deepest darkest days,” she said.

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“We had to beg and grovel again — with good success.”

Stevens and her husband Kirby describe themselves as “lucky” to have landed a spot in the park, and estimated about half of the people staying there would normally be on the road in the U.S. by this point.

“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty,” Oceanside manager Samantha Lenz told Global News.

Read more: Alberta RV companies sees spike in sales amid travel restrictions

“People are trying to make sure they have somewhere to live, because people are full time in their RV, so not having a home where you know you’re safe and secure and trying to get a reservation — they’re few and far between right now.”

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While many of the guests at Oceanside are from B.C. and Alberta, Lenz said others have come from as far as Ontario and Quebec.

Oceanside is just one of many coastal B.C. RV parks that have run out of space, said Joss Penny of the B.C. Lodging and Campground Association.

“We’ve got these last-minute people that haven’t made plans, expecting the border to be open and expecting still to go migrate down to the U.S. wanting places to stay,” he said.

“That’s what’s created the pressure.”

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Coronavirus: Trump says they’re looking at reopening Canada-U.S. border possibly by end of year – Sep 18, 2020

With that surging demand, the British Columbia Hotel Association has launched a pilot project in partnership with Tourism Vancouver Island that could help connect snowbirds with alternatives to the traditional RV park.

“We’ve put out a call to accommodators of all kinds, so motels, hotels, resorts, inns,” said association president and CEO Ingrid Jarret

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The idea could see anything from snowbirds booking a traditional room to hotels offering parking, power and other amenities for an RV through the winter, she said.

Jarrett believes the concept could be a win-win, helping snowbirds badly in need of accommodation, while providing a much needed boost to the region’s struggling tourism sector.

Read more: Coronavirus: Ontario RV owners helping essential workers self isolate, protect their family members

“Our intention is to span the whole of the province,” she said. “I do think this bridging of demand and this new generation of demand could serve us well if we get it right the first time.”

In the meantime, Kirby and Karen are bunking down for a winter in the Victoria area with their new puppy, but are keeping hopes alive they’ll be able to head back to the U.S. next May.

“We’ll get there eventually,” said Kevin.

“But we’ll just go with the flow, so to speak.”

— With files from Kylie Stanton