With B.C.’s travel ban keeping many would-be-tourists away from the Okanagan, local tourism operators are having to appeal to a different kind of clientele this season — the kind that doesn’t have to travel that far.
“Everybody is learning to just kind of be creative and think outside of the box on a turn of a dime really these days,” said Mark Jeanes, general manager for both Manteo Resort and Hotel El Dorado.
“We’re just trying to think of … some of the great things that we could do to attract more people locally.”
Last week, the provincial government announced travel restrictions banning non-essential travel across health regions. It also prohibits out-of-province vacationers.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s difficult times,” Jeanes said. “It just adds another level of complexity to an already difficult situation.”
The travel ban has resulted in many tourists cancelling their bookings. Jeanes said both the El Dorado and Manteo are experiencing the cancellations as well.
“Sadly, like everybody else, yes we are,” he told Global News. “I mean, that’s an unfortunate side of all of this.”
Local hotels and resorts are now relying heavily on local support to get through what would normally be the start of a busy tourist season, offering deals and all kinds of incentives to promote local vacations.
“We’re really appealing to the local people,” Jeanes said. “We’ve come up with a ‘staycation’ package, so there’s an awesome deal for people within the Okanagan…go online and check out the deal that’s there. You get a great great dining credit. We also offer some in-room wellness services now which we didn’t have before.”
At the Oyama Lake Eco Lodge, cabins that are normally booked up months, sometimes a year in advance, are suddenly available.
“We’ve been getting a lot of cancellations,” said lodge owner Nickie Burditt. “This is extremely unusual. Normally we book out well in advance.”
She said a lot of the people cancelling bookings are from outside the Interior Health region, including the Lower Mainland.
While the travel ban is in effect until after the May long weekend, Burditt said she’s getting cancellations well beyond that.
“People are a little bit fearful that the restrictions will go on for longer,” she said.
Burditt said the last-minute cancellations have presented an opportunity for locals to make a booking and explore their own back yard.
“There’s a lot of lodges just like us, a lot of really cool places to check out and even though we can’t travel right now, we can still check out of our surrounding resorts,” Burditt said.
Like so many of her counterparts, Burditt is also offering some discounts for local bookings.
“It’ll (discount) go on until June 1,” she said.
Tourism associations, including the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), say they are cooperating with the travel order and are urging others to do so as well.
“We need to stop this so we can have summer and losing summer would be even worse,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, TOTA’s senior vice-president. “So we really encourage people to listen to the order and do the right thing.”
But TOTA said the travel restrictions will have an impact on already struggling industry.
“They are very alarming impacts going into the month of May, which we know business is typically growing at that time of year,” said Ellen Walker-Matthews, TOTA’s senior vice-president. “We’re very worried.”
Walker-Matthews is encouraging local residents to consider ‘staycations” to help keep tourism operators afloat.
“It’s not going to do what it would if the tourists were here at large but it just helps cash flow, it keeps people employed,” she said.
And just like the tourism operators that are getting creative in coming up with incentives to entice local visitors, Walker-Matthews is encouraging local residents to do the same.
“I was talking to somebody the other day and they said they’re putting a bunch of ideas in a jar for the local area and then they’re picking it out on the weekends and making that their surprise staycations,” she said. ” So doing those things you never take the time to do.”