Will the Coquihalla bottleneck a roaring summer tourism season in Kelowna?

The Coq looms over tourism

It was a busy start to the tourism season in Kelowna, as illustrated by the hours of traffic that filled the Coquihalla Highway Sunday afternoon as people returned to the Lower Mainland after the May Long weekend.

Kelowna Tourism President Lisanne Ballantyne believes pent up travel demand over the pandemic had people itching to get back out on a quick vacation getaway.

“I think the May long weekend we just had was probably one of the best on record. Anyone living here or visiting the Kelowna area felt it. Places were activated, there were lineups that unfortunately come along with May long weekend, but the hotels were packed, the restaurants and patios were all very happy," said Ballantyne.

According to Tourism Kelowna, the industry remained strong throughout the pandemic in terms of visitors, but that hotels and restaurants were hit quite hard – something they’re excited to start seeing go back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Getting a resurgence of tourism is so important. In B.C. alone we are one of the major driving economic impact generators for the province. Here in the Kelowna area alone, it’s a $2.1 billion business," she explained.

"That means we're generating direct spending, we’re generating jobs, as well as tax revenue that cities can use to build and create quality of life for residents.”

As a short-haul domestic tourism market, roughly 70 per cent of Kelowna’s tourists come from the Lower Mainland. Ballantyne said the traffic problems that made headlines Sunday are not worrying Tourism Kelowna.

“We’re comfortable that the right people are doing the right things and moving as quickly as they can on a major capital rebuild like the Coquihalla. What we are monitoring carefully is the price of gas for the people who are doing all that driving here ... but what we’re concerned about is once they get here ... are they going to have extra money to spend once they get here?" she asked.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says traffic flow will remain slow during the summer months while repairs continue, especially on long weekends. The Province says traffic caused average delays of 80 minutes on Sunday of the Victoria Day long weekend.

"Drivers should ensure they have a full tank of gas, pack extra food and water, obey all speed limits, watch for workers on the road and consider travelling during non-peak times," the ministry said in a statement.

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