Sacrificing spring to save the summer has spurred mixed feelings among those in the tourism industry in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.
On Monday, April 19, B.C. Premier John Horgan said regulations were on the way to limit travel within the province while clamping down on non-essential travellers from Alberta until after the May long weekend – considered among Shuswap businesses as the kick-off to summer.
Kim Karampelas, owner of the Sea-Dog Rentals operation at the end of Salmon Arm’s Marine Park wharf, is encouraging customers not to cancel their summer bookings, hoping the restrictions will be lifted as stated after the Victoria Day weekend.
“Eighty per cent of my people are from out of province, especially from Alberta…,” said Karampelas.
The travel restrictions, included with the announcement that existing restrictions along with those prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants were being extended for another five weeks, are intended to get a handle on COVID-19 numbers before the summer.
“We require serious measures if we’re going to get to the May long weekend and salvage our summer,” said Horgan.
According to the province, campground and other tourism accommodation operators agreed to refuse bookings from out-of-region customers until after the May long weekend. B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Tuesday that a more detailed plan was expected later in the week.
Amy Nunn, director of sales and marketing with Kelowna-based Prestige Hotels and Resorts, said they were not taking any actions until they receive further information from the province. Nunn said prior to the Monday announcement, the Okanagan in general was ramping up for a promising summer
“We’re expecting July and August to be very busy,” said Nunn. “I think the feeling among our industry with these new announcements… is that they are doing them to help save the summer for the tourism industry, they’re trying to clamp down now for the next five or six weeks so that we can have a successful July and August. If that’s what it takes, we’re happy to oblige.”
Ashley Olsen, general manager with the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Salmon Arm and Vernon, said they were also awaiting further guidance from the province, with the hope it will outline the legal obligations tourism operators have with respect to the new restrictions. She noted they have already processed a number of cancellations for reservations from travellers outside of the Interior Health region, including the Lower Mainland and Alberta.
“We hope this five-week measure will help turn things around, but we do expect a very challenging summer ahead,” said Olsen in an email to the Observer, adding that while they have not had to reduce staffing, “hotels will only be able to bear so much before they are impacted to the same degree that restaurants have been.”
Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz said he feels for Shuswap tourism businesses impacted by the travel restrictions. He said the economic impact of the restrictions will be concerning because of the major role tourism plays for Sicamous and the region, but stressed provincial regulations must be followed.
Despite the challenges, Rysz said he hoped late May or June will bring a return to normality, and he thinks Sicamous is in a good position thanks to the early vaccination clinic the district received.
He also expressed concern about a return of the animosity between some locals in B.C. towns and people with Alberta licence plates. He advocated for a return of the “We’re people not plates” campaign he pushed for last summer in an effort to stop incidents of harassment and damage to vehicles displaying out-of-province licence plates.
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