September long weekend is the unofficial end to summer in the Okanagan, as tourists have now gone home and local attractions close down for the winter.
While the past several years have been hard on the tourism sector due to pandemic restrictions and wildfire smoke, some business owners say this season was the best year yet.
“The weather was just so great and to have no smoke for us, we kind of wondered what that was like after two years of smoke, floods and COVID,” said Penticton Business Owner Diana Stirling.
“We’re super thankful it was as busy as last year, which was a fantastic year for us across the board. And then we were up this year from pre-pandemic years. So just a great, great year all around and we’re really excited to share.”
Stirling owns and operates several local attractions in Penticton including LocoLanding, Lickity Splitz, Cherry on Top Shake Shop, and is a partner with Coyote Cruises.
“We’re super excited gearing up, thinking about what’s possible for 2023 and I think there’s this amazing sense of optimism for tourism,” said Stirling.
“For us in particular, we’re super excited about our staff that we employed. We had 140 teenagers this year, and they did amazing. We have nothing but awesome things to say about our teenage staff.”
Coyote Cruises’ general manager, Jacob George, echoed that this season was better than expected.
“I feel like our season has been absolutely amazing and Penticton tourism is back to where it should be,” said George.
The local organization, which rents floaties and provides shuttle services at the iconic Penticton channel, said they hosted several large groups including a wedding party of 60 float down the channel.
“It just goes to show you how much of a difference it really makes — seeing everybody just show up and actually want to gather up again,” said George.
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Looking ahead to 2023, they’ll be adding larger floaties to the fleet to keep up with the demand.
“I think we were up to 80 in total so far and I think this year we’re doubling that to 160 of the big, massive floaties,” said George.
However, the wine tourism sector didn’t see the pre-pandemic traffic that they were hoping for.
“I think everybody anticipated that post COVID kind of glow, that we’d all come out and we’d all be really hustling and bustling. But I think that this season kind of just was a little bit of a letdown,” said Therapy Vineyards & Inn’s hospitality manager Jessica Mcdaniel.
According to Mcdaniel, their vineyard was a lot slower this year than before and during the pandemic.
“We’re finding that after COVID we’re down about 20 per cent. Whereas 2020, the first year of COVID was probably our busiest year that we had had and then 2021 was a fairly busy year as well,” said Mcdaniel.
“It’s been a little bit shocking in that sense because I think we expected the opposite.”
The slower season wasn’t unique to Therapy Vineyards & Inn.
“I’ve talked to different tour companies around the area as well as different wineries and everybody’s kind of been facing the same thing or we’ve all just been a little bit slower than we all anticipated,” said Mcdaniel.
She went on to say that despite a slower year, they are hopeful that 2023 will be better.
“We’re hopeful that whatever this post-COVID kind of haze has been, will kind of blow over and that we’ll kind of have that really busy season that we’ve all been looking for and I think everybody’s really been missing it,” said Mcdaniel.