Tourism hit by smoke

Madison Erhardt

Tourism in Kelowna has taken a hit from the wildfire smoke that has hung across Southern B.C., but its CEO says there is an upside. 

"Whenever the weather isn't sunshine and hot temperatures, people go inside. And, for Kelowna, that is just fine because we are an urban centre and we have so many different experiences to offer people," said Lisanne Ballantyne. 

"Our museums, our art galleries, wine tours, they are all experiencing (good numbers). Really interesting is some folks are heading up the mountains to get above a certain level and getting some blue skies for some hiking," Ballantyne added.

But not all businesses are thriving under the smoky conditions. 

"When the smoke hit a good week ago, we immediately started contacting hotels and our tour operators and attractions to see what the impact was. It definitely was affecting them," said Ballantyne. 

"Probably about three quarters of the hotels had at least one cancelation due to the smoke conditions, and about 50 per cent of them had seen visitors shorten their stay after they had already arrived."

It's a similar story to summer 2017. 

"It's remarkably similar to last year, especially with the timing. What's interesting is we took a bit of a revenue hit as a tourism industry last year in August, but we actually rebounded really strongly in September. We know that is going to happen again this year."

"The fact that we have rebounded in Kelowna during the fall tells us that the Kelowna brand for a vacation destination is strong. It's going to outlast any of these market disruptors, whether that is world financial conditions or something very local like smoke," Ballantyne said. 

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