British Columbia

More overnight visitors going to Central Okanagan but fewer spending time or money in hotels

Hotel occupancy rates in Kelowna and the Central Okanagan dropped 12 per cent year-over-year in July. Restaurant and other related industries are facing challenges.

Travelers spend less which doesn't bode well for the economy, says Tourism Kelowna CEO

The latest data from Tourism Kelowna indicates a rebound in hotel occupancy in the Central Okanagan region this summer, but it's still lower than the same period last year. (Shawn Talbot Photography/Tourism Kelowna)

Visitors have been coming back to Kelowna, since the B.C. government started encouraging within-province travel in late June as part of its Phase 3 restart plan. But higher visitation isn't necessarily translating into more business and revenue for hospitality services in the Central Okanagan.

Tourism Kelowna's latest data provides a mixed picture of the region's travel industry. Numbers of overnight visitors jumped 25 to 35 per cent year-over-year in June and July, but hotel occupancy rates for those two months dropped 12 to 43 per cent compared to the same period last year.

"That's telling us people are making different choices about where to stay," Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South

"We suspect there's a lot of friends and family visitation. We think the campgrounds are getting a lot of it [visitation], or possibly even people are staying in RV (recreational vehicle) parks."

Tourism Kelowna reports that over two-thirds of travelers to the Central Okanagan in July came from within British Columbia. Ballantyne said it doesn't bode well for the region's economy as tourists shorten their stay and spend less money.

But equally troubling is how little notice they're getting when tourists book their vacation accommodations.

"A third of the bookings are happening the week that the travel is happening," Ballantyne said. "That's unprecedented here, and it causes some real problems for staffing."

Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association, said the Central Okanagan is one of the few B.C. regions seeing a strong influx of visitors this summer, but it's not going to make up for the revenue lost by the hotel industry over the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more uncertain is how many visitors will come to fill hotels in the Central Okanagan in the fall for meetings and conferences. Many of these people come from the United States and other countries.

"That is non-existent until those [international travel] restrictions are lifted," said Jarrett.

Ballantyne said restaurants' revenue will decrease due to visitors' shorter stays, but she said operators of lake tours and similar services are doing well.

Some operators of tour services in the Central Okanagan, such as wine tasting, are performing well. (Shawn Talbot Photography/Tourism Kelowna)

Uncorked Okanagan Wine Tours co-owner Deb Harris has seen a revenue rebound since June, despite the 84 per cent year-over-year revenue plunge that month.

"We had no idea that it would be like this. I think what happened [in the rebound] was the world just woke up to wine one day," said Harris.

With files from Daybreak South and Brady Strachan

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