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Kelowna  

3. Battling floods, smoke

Floods, landslides, fire, smoke. There's no doubt Mother Nature hit the Okanagan hard in 2017 – but surprisingly, it didn't hit tourism as much as expected, Tourism Kelowna says. 

Flooding started in early May and kept boaters to low speeds to prevent shore erosion from their wakes.

Forest fires started soon after, leading to smoke-filled air for what seemed like months on end.

The smoke from wildfires burning throughout the B.C. Interior was strong enough to deter people from enjoying the outdoors – one of the biggest draws for tourists in the Okanagan. According to Tourism Kelowna, the smoke did the biggest damage to tourism numbers in 2017. 

"We were learning the flooding wasn't affecting our hotel group as badly as the later smoke from the fires did," said CEO Lisanne Ballantyne. 

Bookings weren't being cancelled, but people were staying a shorter time once they got here. 

"Our overall hotel occupancy was only down slightly, about 1.4 per cent down from the same period of 2016. We're OK with that – 2016 was a strong growth year," Ballantyne said.

"What's interesting, for the month of September, we were at 82.2 per cent occupancy. That's actually ahead of September last year. The hit we took as a tourist industry was related specifically to our key months of July and August. We rebounded quite nicely."

But, tourist-dependent businesses didn't paint quite as rosy a picture. Anecdotal reports were that business was down for many, and Mayor Colin Basran took to YouTube to produce a series of videos proclaiming Kelowna "still open for business" during the high-water and smoke woes.

Tourism Kelowna tracks strictly hotel numbers. Businesses along the waterfront were less enthusiastic. 

Castanet visited Megs BBQ Boat Rentals a few times during the tourist season, and owner Meagan Young reported a dip in sales. 

"It's still busy, but people have been told by hotels and others the lake is not in operation right now, so with that knowledge, they think they aren't able to get out onto the water or do things close to the water. That is taking away from some of the business in the downtown area, as well as the tourism," she said in May. 

But when Young looked back over the year, she was pleasantly surprised. 

"Our numbers were up. Obviously, we noticed a decrease in the amount of people coming through, but regardless they were still renting boats and getting on the lake. We are projecting to be a lot busier next year."



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