British Columbia

Wildfire tourism fallout lingers for some B.C. businesses, while others see rainy rebound

Some tourism companies in the fire-stricken B.C. Interior are still struggling with customers worried about wildfires ruining their summer travel plans.  

Wells Gray Adventures say customers still worried about the return of smoke

Hikers take on the hut-to-hut traverse in Wells Gray Provincial Park as part of a tour offered by Wells Gray Adventures in spring 2019. (Tay Briggs/Wells Gray Adventures)

Some tourism companies in the fire-stricken B.C. Interior are still struggling with customers worried about wildfires ruining their summer travel plans.  

Wells Gray Adventures, which offers guided backcountry hiking trips about 300 kilometres southwest of Jasper, Alta., said the reputational burn from the wildfires is affecting bookings. 

Company manager Tay Briggs said about 40 percent of her clientele have the usually pristine views on their minds when they call. 

"It's one of the first things they ask about. What if there's smoke? What if it affects the visibility?" Briggs said.

A tour guide for Wells Gray Adventures leads a group through a meadow in Wells Gray Provincial Park in B.C. (Linus Persson/Wells Gray Adventures)
 

The 2018 fires burned more than 13,000 square kilometres of forest. The skies were cast a smoky grey for much of the summer tourism season, with smoke spilling over into Alberta and parts of the northwestern United States.   

The previous year, Wells Gray Adventures had to shut down for three weeks when the province closed Wells Gray Provincial Park due to fire danger.

Briggs said this year customers are asking about their cancellations policy, or waiting until the last minute to book, making planning more of a challenge for the company. 

"It's changing the booking landscape for sure," she said. 

Rebound for others 

As for the Caravan Farm Theatre, an outdoor performance venue near Armstrong B.C., ticket sales are making a comeback. 

"They are way more robust. Ticket sales are flying along," said Estelle Shook, managing director of the theatre. 

The Caravan Farm Theatre says despite rainy weather, ticket sales have recovered after the 2018 wildfires in the B.C. Interior. (Caravan Farm Theatre)

Shook said last summer, the theatre had to cancel three productions due to smoke.

But this year, the company also took precautions, moving its run to earlier in the summer to avoid the high season fire risks.  

"Which is ironic because now it looks like that may have not been necessary. But you just never know," Shook said about the recent spell of rain.  

The theatre's experience aligns with reports to the provincial government around tourism numbers, which indicate the Interior is so far seeing a fairly normal year. No stats for the current period were available. 

Still, Shook said it remains to be seen whether the fires will hold off in her region. 

"I think everybody's just waiting to see what's going to happen next," Shook said.  

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