‘It’s exceptionally frustrating’: Okanagan bed and breakfasts decry lack of clarity on travel ban

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The new COVID-19-related travel restrictions announced by the B.C. government on Monday are creating frustration and confusion among the many bed and breakfast operators throughout the Okanagan.

“It’s exceptionally frustrating,” said Sue Willis, president of the Accredited B.C. Accommodations Association. “Accommodation providers have not received any direct emails or information from anyone to know exactly what we’re supposed to give out as the message.”

The new rules prohibit any travel across health region boundaries unless it is for essential reasons.

Read more: British Columbia will not conduct random individual stops in COVID travel crackdown

The provincial government said it will install new border signs along the B.C.-Alberta border, which will urge people to stay within their own province if travel isn’t essential.

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But Willis, who runs her View to Remember Bed and Breakfast in West Kelowna, said even the definition of essential travel isn’t clear, nor is who or how the new order will be enforced.

“I don’t want to have to police my guests. I can’t,” she said. “If somebody says it’s essential travel, I’m going to have to believe them. What’s essential to you might not be essential to somebody else.”

As of last year, the B.C. Accommodations Association association represented roughly 150 professional bed and breakfasts in the Central Okanagan.

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That number may now be lower because some B&Bs have shut down due to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19.

Willis said the lack of clarity is leading to confusion and uncertainty for both accommodation providers and guests.

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“Guests are confused as to whether they should come or not, whether they should change their dates,” Willis said. “They don’t know how it’s going to be after the May long weekend.”

She said what’s compounding the confusion among would-be-visitors is that government and public health orders don’t seem to align with what the travel industry is promoting.

“They are getting mixed messages from the travel industry in relation to increasing domestic flights for summer, increasing direct flights from back east … flights to Kelowna from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa,” Willis said. “So guests are [thinking], ‘oh if there are direct flights I’m going to come,’ but then they hear on the news that they should not come.”

According to Tourism Kelowna, there are still many more questions needing answers about the new ban.

“We’re in a bit of a wait and see. We’re hoping for more details coming this Friday hopefully on the new travel restrictions that were just announced,” said Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna. “So right now we’re monitoring information, recommendations and orders. Of course we’re going to follow their advice but we sure would like to see a few more details.”

Read more: Okanagan tourism agencies respond as B.C. discourages regional travel amid COVID-19 third wave

Willis said it’s challenging trying to help guests understand the new rules when the rules themselves aren’t clear.

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“You’re doing a lot of hand-holding with your guests and spending a lot of time with them trying to sort it out either through multiple emails or they’re calling you all the time looking for updates,” she said “They’re looking for you to help them make a decision that you can’t really help them make.”

The new travel restrictions are expected to have an impact on the tourism industry as a whole, including the B&B sector.

“It’s a huge loss of income for all of us, you know there’s many that are open year-round and are expecting year-round business,” Willis said.

Ballantyne echoed the sentiment saying the tourism will take a hit.

“It’s going to have some level of impact on what is normally a $2 billion tourism industry in the Kelowna area,” she said.

The provincial government has said it will provide more details surrounding the new travel rules later on in the week.

The formal order will go into effect on Friday.

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