'They just didn't want to come': Tourism down over May long weekend in South Okanagan

Tourists stayed away from the South Okanagan this May long weekend over concerns about flooding in the region.

Hotels and tour operators had numerous cancellations because of fears over flooding in the South Okanagan

The Poplars Motel in Osoyoos, B.C., usually has a beach in front of it. Instead, flooding has made water levels rise right up to the property. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

The May long weekend is generally considered the kick-off to summer tourist season in B.C.'s Okanagan region, with tourists pouring into the area to enjoy everything from boating on lakes to wine tours.

In the South Okanagan, however, the weekend was a bit of a dud for some tourism operators.

"There were direct cancellations due to flooding," said Natasha Mitchener, owner of Wine Tours Gone South, based in Osoyoos.

"We had a lot of people calling to say they just didn't want to come."

Mitchener estimates business was down 40 per cent from previous May long weekends.

Flooded lakefront home in the town of Osoyoos. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Several communities in the South Okanagan – Similkameen have been affected by flooding this spring with washed out roads, evacuation orders and walls of sandbags lining creeks and protecting lakefront homes.

Osoyoos is one of the towns most affected as Osoyoos Lake filled with melted snow from higher elevations and spilled over into homes and businesses.

That forced the evacuation of dozens of lakefront homes and two lakeside motels.

The high water swallowed beaches and the town closed boat launches to keep motorized boats off the lake.

Hotels in the town reported a drop in tourist numbers over the long weekend, with one operator saying customers were cancelling bookings based on misinformation.

A pair of stand-up paddle-boarders cruised through flooded Safari Beach last week. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"We've had some people think that Highway 97 is under water between Penticton and Osoyoos," said Ingrid Jarrett, general manager of the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos.  

Some wineries in the Interior also noticed a downturn in visits over the weekend.

"We are hearing that it's just a little bit softer start to the season and everybody's down just a little bit," said B.C. Wine Institute board chair Christa-Lee McWatters.

She is hopeful the situation will right itself as the season progresses. 

"We are optimistic that with the sunshine now out — because the weather has been a little bit iffy up until now — that will encourage visitors to come and visit Okanagan wine country," McWatters said.

Some wineries said they seem to have bucked the trend.

Okanagan Crush Pad winery in Summerland had its busiest May long weekend on record, said co-owner Christine Coletta.

"We were up 25 per cent over the previous long weekend the year prior," she said.

"People were very happy to be out wine touring." 

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan