Kelowna may soon see more visitors in the area, but that doesn’t mean the city’s tourism and hospitality industries are out of the woods yet.
Tourism Kelowna’s president and CEO Lisanne Ballantyne said they have already seen more visitors in 2021 than in the first two months of 2020, but this is not resulting in a local economic boost.
“This is interesting but what makes it more interesting is our hotel occupancy numbers in those same months are down from last year,” she said.
“We’re actually a bit concerned that we’re going to have a repeat of a pattern we saw last year where because the Central Okanagan area is such a popular destination, people are still coming but that consumer behaviour has changed so much in that those folks are not staying in hotels or spending the way they used to spend.”
Ballantyne said the summer will likely feel busier for locals; more may come to the region as the vaccine rollout continues and restrictions slowly ease.
“If it’s allowed and health restrictions are eased, we’re going to see I think some Alberta plates, but absolutely mostly B.C. plates.”
Ballantyne said that Kelowna hotels are also receiving a lot of inquiries regarding cancellation and refund policies in the event that they’d have to make travel changes.
She said the overall interest to stay in hotels is there. However even though they’re expecting more people to come, Ballantyne said hotels in the city have reported that bookings are down.
“Through our own website… we’ve seen the number of inquiries shoot up to 2019 levels. We can tell there’s a pent-up demand for travel, people are researching what’s open, health regulations, and cancellation policies.”
Despite the vaccine rollout, Ballantyne said people still want to follow public health orders and once those are lifted, that’s when Kelowna’s hospitality industry will see a positive change.
In the meantime, Ballantyne said Tourism Kelowna is encouraging residents to keep supporting local businesses and restaurants and even as visitors come, to continue supporting them.
“Even if it’s a busy summer, they’ll still struggle to make up for the money they’ve lost in the last year,” she said.
“They’re really going to need local residents to continue supporting them just so they can get back up on their feet.”