British Columbia

More people visited Central Okanagan in 2020 but fewer stayed in hotels

Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, says more travellers to Central Okanagan despite the pandemic doesn't translate into more spending on hotels and other businesses in the region.

Overnight visitors jumped 5 per cent but hotel occupancy plummeted 24 per cent year-over-year

The latest data from Tourism Kelowna indicates a slight increase in overnight travellers but lower hotel occupancy rate in 2020 as compared to 2019. (Shawn Talbot Photography/Tourism Kelowna)

More people visited Kelowna and stayed overnight in 2020 than the year before, but that has not translated into more revenue for hotels and other businesses in the region, according to Tourism Kelowna. 

Tourism Kelowna's latest data indicates nearly 1.9 million overnight visitors stayed in the city last year — five per cent more than in 2019 — but the hotel occupancy rate for the year was down 24 per cent.

The data also shows incoming travellers were up 25 per cent year-over-year in June since the B.C. government started encouraging within-province travel, but dropped nine per cent year-over-year in December after the government banned non-essential travel across regions and provinces in November due to the escalating daily COVID-19 cases. 

"Those numbers actually align with the different stages of the health restrictions," Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Tourism Kelowna believes many travellers stayed at short-term rentals instead of hotels.

The organization painted a bleak picture of the state of local businesses in a report presented to city council on Monday — 65 per cent of businesses it surveyed reported a winter revenue plunge of more than 20 per cent, compared to the same period a year earlier. 

The survey also found 76 per cent of businesses are expecting a drop in revenue this spring. 

Ballantyne says hotels and other businesses are slated to earn less due to public health protocols.

"If you're a restaurant and you're adhering … to all of the health and safety precautions, you've automatically knocked out close to 50 per cent of your seating capacity," she said. "The same things are happening in other tourism businesses as well."

Tourism Kelowna's report says because tourists have spent less in the Central Okanagan city, the organization has set its budget for this year at $2.7 million, a whopping drop from the $4.7 million budget it had for 2020, pre-COVID. 

Change of strategy

Ballantyne says with various travel restrictions still in place, Tourism Kelowna will have to change its marketing strategy to focus on travellers from within the region.

"We traditionally market externally, of course, trying to bring people in, but we're finding now we're having to change some of our tactics to talk more to a regional audience, to keep the money at least circulating here in the province," she said.

Ballantyne also says her organization encourages local tourism businesses to join the B.C. Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant Program announced in late December, because over 70 per cent of them haven't applied for the money.

Tap the link below to hear Lisanne Ballantyne's interview on Daybreak South:

With files from Daybreak South


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