After two years of hits to the tourism business in the South Okanagan, hotel bookings are finally looking to return in full force for this summer.
GM of the Penticton Lakeside Resort & Convention Centre, Elizabeth Cucnik, said that bookings are looking healthy at this point.
“We really feel the injection of enthusiasm in the public, throughout the province, throughout Canada, we are seeing some travellers from the United States again, opening up. There's quite a bit of optimism around tourism at the moment as a tourism operator.”
The reservations are getting close to being back at pre-pandemic levels.
“It feels like it's the same kind of environment as pre-covid, In terms of our occupancy levels. However, I do continuously stress that it is with caution, because, we really do need this injection of tourism to help recover and it will take a long time,” Cucnik said.
“It's not going to happen overnight. It's not going to happen with one summer of high occupancy, it's going to take some time.”
The Naramata Inn shares a similar story in seeing their bookings rise this year.
“We opened in a pandemic. So things are a little unusual as a starting point, but we're really happy to see that this year is going to be our strongest year yet. And we are trying to get to a place called ‘normal,’” Partner Kate Colley said, adding that they’re up over our goals for every month ahead except for August.
“I think people are really hopeful that this is going to be the year and the summer that everything kind of improves for the better. And we're feeling that way too.”
Confidence has grown in visitation to Naramata so well that the Inn has expanded their dining offerings, opening a specialty wine bar, called Eliza, in their lower level.
As some of the area's biggest festivals and celebrations return, the high attendance expectation can be seen in the rooms already being booked out.
“August long weekend is a huge weekend for us and most tourism operators throughout the South Okanagan. That is sort of our creme de la creme, the big weekend. But we have quite a few events that have returned this year, Peach City Beach Cruise is coming back, and the Elvis Festival too,” Cucnik said.
“We definitely have full occupancy around the Ironman and the GranFondo which is really exciting to know that people are considering Naramata even though they're attending events in Penticton,” Colley added.
Both hospitality businesses continue to look for staff to hire on, as the worker shortage continues to impact the Okanagan.
“Staffing levels are always a challenge. I know for everybody, we're not unique to that problem,” Cucnik said. The resort continues to attend job fairs and runs a program for Ukrainian refugees, with an offer to accommodate people that are coming over from Ukraine that can help work at the resort.
There is still some trepidation remaining for some visitors in their bookings.
“I'm certain people have various reservations about traveling in general after the last two years that we've had that included, of course, the pandemic, but also wildfires and a heat dome, like we've not seen here before,” Colley said.
“So I think people can't help but have those kinds of thoughts in their mind when they're making bookings. But we're happy to see that people really are making the bookings and I'm sure this is going to be our best summer yet.”