Okanagan hotels were on track for one of the busiest summers ever. Then August hit.

August hit hotels hard

Kelowna’s hotels were on track for their busiest summer ever, until COVID-19 and wildfires forced tourists to change their plans.

New room revenue data from the provincial government shows $22.1 million worth of hotel rooms were booked in Kelowna in the month of July, by far the biggest month ever for the local hotel sector.

The largest previous month was in June 2019, when $19.3 million of hotel room revenues were collected.

That increase was driven in big part by the addition of 364 hotel rooms to the market in 2020 at the Hampton Inn & Suites Kelowna Airport, Hyatt Place Kelowna and Microtel Inn & Suite.

Tourism Kelowna says after a slow first half of the year, pent-up demand and the lifting of travel restrictions caused visitation and occupancy to surge in July.

"However, that didn’t necessarily result in strong spending levels," Tourism Kelowna said in a statement to Castanet on Friday.

After a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in the Central Okanagan and wildfires erupted, spurring the government to discourage travel to the region, tourists went elsewhere in August.

Room revenues in Kelowna in August fell to $16.6 million, a level roughly typical for the past five years as guests increasingly avoid the region during peak wildfire season.

In the South Okanagan, the communities of Penticton and Osoyoos saw a similar trend — busy Julys before a drop-off in August. In Penticton, July saw $8.1 million in bookings, also a high-water mark for the community, before falling to $6 million in August. Penticton also opened a new hotel in July 2020.

Kamloops and Vernon saw less of a drop-off in August.

"In fall months, we have seen visitation and hotel levels generally above 2020 levels, but behind 2019 levels. Due to current highway closures and travel restrictions limiting non-essential travel, we anticipate the winter months we will see lower visitation and occupancy numbers especially from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland," Tourism Kelowna said Friday.

Room revenue data is not yet available for September. The data is collected by the B.C. government through its Municipal and Regional District Tax program, the 2-3% tax on hotel stays that benefits local governments.

After yet another rough summer, smaller tourism operators told Castanet they hope to hang on through the winter and come back stronger next summer.

Tourism Kelowna says it expects it will take years for the local industry to return to pre-pandemic levels.

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