The Okanagan’s hard-hit hospitality industry is expressing mixed emotions as the province announced its four-step approach to re-opening the economy.
Step one is effective immediately and includes the lifting of a ban that prevented indoor dining.
“Today’s step one, on May 25, is based on the fact that our case rates are stable, hospitalizations are stable and coming down and 60 per cent of the population has been immunized,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“We are thrilled with that,” said Hans Birker, owner of the Bohemian café and Catering in Kelowna. “It’s a huge step forward for us.”
The ban went into effect on March 29 as part of B.C.’s circuit breaker restrictions resulting in huge revenue losses for restaurant and pub operators.
“We saw it fall by 65 per cent,” Birker told Global News.
While indoor dining is now allowed, pre-circuit breaker health guidelines must still be followed. That includes six people maximum at each table, with no mingling.
“We’re very thankful to get the extra 50 seats inside,” Birker said.
The general manager of the Hotel Eldorado and Manteo Resort echoed the sentiment.
“That’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Mark Jeanes. “We were at the mercy of the weather.”
“Today is beautiful, definitely, but there were some pretty chilly days when eating breakfast on the patio in a parka was just not everybody’s cup of tea.”
One restriction, however, that’s not being lifted — at least not for now — is travel across B.C.’s three health zones.
“I was hoping that we would get some Vancouver clients here, maybe some from Vancouver Island, but I guess that’s not going to be happening,” said Birker, adding about 30 per cent of his business relies on out-of-region visitors.
“So that’s a bit of a disappointment for us.”
That travel ban will remain in place at least until June 15, when it’s expected to be lifted as part of the restart’s second step.
“We were hoping that the travel piece was going to be added into that,” Jeanes said. “It’s been 15 months of pivoting.
“Everybody is over that … it was tough, but we just made the best of it and there is light at the end of the tunnel now, which is great.”
Jeanes said now that the restart plan has been outlined, he expects summer bookings to ramp up.
“The fact that we now have a more defined timeline for people, I think it’s going to really get a lot of people excited,” Jeanes said.
“They can plan more with confidence and enjoy the summer in the Okanagan.”