Accommodations in the South Okanagan expected to see 'considerable damage done' with new travel restrictions

Accommodations hit hard

Casey Richardson

Hotels, accommodations and campsites in the South Okanagan were caught off guard with the BC Provincial government’s announcement on Monday, with new COVID-19 restrictions on non-essential travel for BC residents outside their own health authority regions expected to come out on Friday.

The Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth will be issuing orders under the emergency program act to restrict people's ability to leave their health authority for non-essential reasons.

Accommodations in the South Okanagan-Similkameen are preparing with uncertainty of the full extent of the new orders, and the damage it could do.

“We were starting to see bookings pick up as we got closer to May and June. There will be considerable cancellation and considerable damage done to these properties. But like I said, hopefully this is a short term fix and we can still enjoy a proper summer,” Tyson Andrykew, vice president of sales and operations with the Mundi Hotel Group said.

The Mundi Group runs the Fairfield hotel in Penticton, as well as the Coast hotels in Oliver and Osoyoos. Andrykew said while they anticipated for the dine-in restrictions to continue, they weren't expecting regional travel restrictions to come into place.

“I think it is catching the industry off guard a little for sure.”

While the Mundi Hotels are glad they have a few days to prepare for the changes, the lack of communication between the provincial government and businesses add to the challenges.

“Some restrictions have been pretty late for notice,” Andrykew added, referencing the New Year Eve and St. Patrick's day restrictions placed on liquor service hours.

“It will put a pinch on the properties in the next few days until we can get in touch with upcoming guests.”

Grist Mill Campground in Keremeos decided very soon after the announcement on Monday to cancel bookings outside the Interior Health region.

“We were watching the news with great attention just like everyone else, and it became pretty clear that restrictions were going to come down. Whether it was guidance or whether it was enforced rules, we weren’t quite sure,” General manager Chris Mathieson said.

Within 15 minutes of the announcement, Grist Mill had contacted everyone outside of the local health authority that had bookings in the next five weeks and told them they had to cancel their reservation.

“It became clear the responsible thing for us to do was to put a delay, at least for the start of our camping season.”

The historic site posted to Facebook about their decision, and while most people were supportive of their decision, they did see some comments with pushback.

“We knew it was the right thing to do anyway, that's why we were so proactive about it. And not just doing the right thing by canceling the bookings, but also by making it very public we were doing it, so that other businesses feel comfortable following suit,” Mathieson said.

“Hopefully this makes it a bit easier for all these Okanagan businesses that rely on tourists, rely on visitors.”

Mundi Hotel Group is waiting for more direction on the restrictions and how to start screening guests on the nature of their travel. Andrykew added that what the industry really needs is additional financial support, past the grants that have been given so far.

“If we don’t want to see mass closures, job losses, things of that nature. We need to make sure the government is not only protecting the public health, but backing up the businesses to make sure these restrictions have a mitigated effect.”

Mathieson said this is a hard hit to the industry, the past year had put businesses in a vulnerable place and the decision to close down again is tough.

“We've been spending money to get ready to open. We’re spending our saved money from last season in the anticipation of starting to see some money come in and now this is going to be delaying it a bunch.”

The properties are asking for a better timeline to be given from the province, to help out accommodations that haven't opened yet for the season or are waiting to welcome other guests in.

For the next while, both operations are hoping to see locals taking the chance to enjoy a staycation.

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