The beaches on Penticton’s two lakes were expected to be busy this summer, before COVID-19 hit. (Western News File)

After tough summer, Penticton’s tourism industry looks ahead to better winter

The summer saw significant financial impacts from COVID-19

Travel Penticton is looking towards a better winter after a tough summer season.

“Our cash flow situation which normally is the strongest this time of year, is fairly grim,” said Thom Tischik, executive director of Tourism Penticton, to council on Sept. 15.

It has been a mixed summer for Penticton, with both the outbreak of COVID-19 and the fires at the end of the season.

The summer saw a decrease in hotel stays, which in July fell from 83 per cent in 2019 to 68 per cent in 2020. Kelowna saw a similar decline, going from 83 per cent to 70.3. Other tourist communities like Whistler saw greater losses, going from 81 per cent down to 46.2 from 2019 to 2020.

Travel Penticton’s new information centre next to the Peach and Okanagan Lake beach saw great success, and their main centre is still seeing heavy daily traffic. It’s a good sign for the fall and winter.

“Even with the smoke, we’re getting in the neighbourhood of 70 people a day coming through, that’s actually better than what we had during the summertime,” said Tischik. “Even with the smoke, people are still travelling, places are booked, and they’re looking for things to do, and that’s very encouraging.”

READ MORE: Travel Penticton launches ‘support your local business’ initiative

While the numbers may have gone down for hotels, other options like campgrounds have seen an increase in traffic over the summer. That increase isn’t looking like its fading yet either, only changing in demographic from families to those with larger RVs. The only missing group are the usual European travellers around this time of year.

Instead, more travellers came from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver this year, and Travel Penticton is hopeful that they will return now that they’ve gotten a taste of the region.

“It has been an eye-opener, not only for us at Travel Penticton, but for the visitors,” said Tischik. “We asked them, have they been here? And they told us: ‘I haven’t been here in 30 years.’ ‘We haven’t been here in 10 years.’ ‘I’ve heard about it, but never had the chance to get up here.’ And they gave it a try.”

There were some businesses that did more than survive the summer. Wineries, such as those on the Naramata Bench, saw a fairly successful season even with the necessary changes to be COVID-19 safe. Tischik cited Tina Baird from the Naramata Bench Winery Association during his presentation.

“Wine tasting was a primary motivator and not second to another activity,” Baird had told Travel Penticton.

Going forward, Travel Penticton is focusing on promoting Penticton for week-long and weekend getaways, as long as the province stays out of a lockdown like earlier in the year.

They plan to target snowbirds and the one to two week stay market for vacations. Travel Penticton will also be working with other groups like Apex Mountain Resort and Chute Lake Lodge on promoting winter activities and accommodations in Penticton, primarily to B.C. residents in the Thomspon-Okanagan and Vancouver areas.

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