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Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory

Click to play video: 'Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory' Locals urged to carve out time and visit Okanagan ski hills in wake of holiday travel advisory
Locals are being urged to help fill the gap as Okanagan ski hills grapple with cancellations in the wake of a holiday travel advisory due to the pandemic. Shelby Thom reports. – Dec 8, 2020

Okanagan ski resorts are bracing for the impact of travel restrictions imposed during the peak holiday travel season because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the provincial government put a freeze on holiday travel plans, extending a non-essential travel advisory until early January, as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise.

The directive is a major blow to Okanagan ski resort destinations, which were banking on B.C. visitors in the absence of international tourists.

Read more: Ski industry braces for impact of B.C. province-wide travel restrictions

“It’s absolutely going to be a hit to the business, but we do fully support Bonnie Henry’s decision,” said James Shalman, general manager at Apex Mountain Resort near Penticton.

Shalman said the ski resort is expecting an approximate 50 per cent decline in visitors during the winter break due to the travel mandate.

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Click to play video: '“This hotel is fully occupied this weekend,” Tourism on upswing in the Okanagan despite pandemic' “This hotel is fully occupied this weekend,” Tourism on upswing in the Okanagan despite pandemic
“This hotel is fully occupied this weekend,” Tourism on upswing in the Okanagan despite pandemic – Jul 3, 2020

“I think we are going to survive this year. The local support we have had so far has been absolutely phenomenal,” he said.

Mountain accommodations already fielding cancellation requests.

“Most of them are from eastern Canada or on (Vancouver) Island,” said Deidra Brown-John with Skyrun Vacation Rentals.

Resort restaurants hope revenues won’t go downhill.

Read more: Coronavirus: Okanagan tourism on upswing despite pandemic

“The food offering, the product offering will be different this year. It’s not going to be such a party vibe as the Gunbarrel is used to,” said Jesse Ritchie, owner of The Score Pub Group which operates the restaurant.

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And it’s not just ski resorts.

Click to play video: 'Tourism Kelowna launches Explore Kelowna campaign to help industry recover from pandemic' Tourism Kelowna launches Explore Kelowna campaign to help industry recover from pandemic
Tourism Kelowna launches Explore Kelowna campaign to help industry recover from pandemic – May 25, 2020

Hotel occupancy rates were down more than 50 per cent across B.C. in late November, compared to the same time last year.

The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association said it represents the second-largest decrease since COVID-19’s first wave.

“We want the tourism industry to survive. And to survive, we are going to need some support,” said spokesperson Ellen Walker-Matthews.

Read more: Guests welcome, says Tourism Kelowna, but research recommended before visiting Okanagan

Locals are being urged to carve out time to hit up their favourite slopes.

“You’re going to have your own private ski resort up here; this is almost a best-case scenario for them,” Shalman said.

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Click to play video: 'Bed and Breakfast operators in the Okanagan have been hard hit by the pandemic' Bed and Breakfast operators in the Okanagan have been hard hit by the pandemic
Bed and Breakfast operators in the Okanagan have been hard hit by the pandemic – May 21, 2020

Season-pass holder sales are up, he added, and locals plan to snatch up those vacant vacation rentals.

“We will be up here way more this year than we have been,” said snowboarder David Van Rijn

“We will be spending as much time here as we can,” agreed skier John Batyka.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced financial help for B.C.’s struggling tourism sector, but the money won’t be available until at least February.

B.C. tourism minister Melanie Mark announced $53 million in support to create jobs and spur economic activity.

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