The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed travel and tourism in Penticton earlier this spring, but many tourists are now making their way to the city.
Thom Tischik, executive director of Travel Penticton, says that tourism numbers are nearing the norm for July.
At the city’s visitor centre, Tischik said he sees approximately 50 visitors a day. Usually at this time of year, that number might be closer to 60 or 70.
On June 24, Premier John Horgan announced that the province had reached the point in the fight against COVID-19 where it had become safe to travel within British Columbia.
Many people from across the province heard this message and headed straight to the South Okanagan.
Tischik said that the city’s visitor centre has seen a steady increase in travellers over recent weeks. The visitor centre has yet to be as busy as it was during this time last year but there has been a stark change from just a few weeks ago.
In Tischik’s first-hand experience, the large majority of the visitors are from the Lower Mainland. People are also coming from other parts of the province and Alberta.
He also said that the demographic of the tourists has changed. Typically, seniors are the most common demographic among travellers in Penticton but that’s changed so far this year. Younger people and families are becoming a more common demographic.
Some prospective travellers have called Travel Penticton to ask whether or not it is safe to come to visit. Tischik said as long as people follow the necessary protocols, Penticton remains a safe place to travel to.
While Penticton is welcoming travellers and embracing the economic boost, Tischik said it is still paramount that everyone follows health and safety protocols.
“If you’re not feeling well, please don’t travel and if you’re not familiar with some of the things to do in Penticton it’s best to take a lesson or have a guide,” said Tschik.
While Penticton is ready to safely host tourists, Tischik reminded that the tourists must be ready too.
“There’s a responsibility of the visitors to make sure they’re aware of their health and how they’re feeling,” he said. “If they come here we certainly don’t want to have any of our emergency response personnel compromised.
As for locals and travellers who may have concerns about crowds on the beach, Penticton’s mayor John Vassilaki said the city is doing everything possible to ensure people keep their distance from each other.
Bylaw officers monitor beaches and other public areas to ensure everyone is following the provincial health guidelines. If you are not keeping sufficient distance, bylaw officers may give you a friendly reminder to do so.
Provincial health officials have also recognized that the virus is much more likely to spread in crowded indoor spaces as opposed to crowded outdoor spaces.
For the most part, people have been pretty good about following the guidelines, said bylaw services supervisor, Tina Siebert. Bylaw has not received many complaints in recent weeks.
Bylaw officers are not going out of their way to look for people who are too close together. They are, however, responding to complaints of people not following the public health guidelines and reacting in an uneducated manner.
“We’re not out there with a measuring stick,” said Seibert.
Highly-frequented public areas are inundated with COVID-19 signage, reminding people to follow health guidelines. (Jesse Day – Western News)
So far groups of travellers have generally been able to keep their distance in public, said Vassilaki.
The one thing Vassilaki has been concerned with is the number of license plates from the United States he’s seen in town.
“I’ve noticed a lot more American plates than I’ve seen in the past. I have no idea where they’re coming from because it’s only necessary travel coming through the border. I don’t know what necessary travel they have to be in Penticton for…”
Overall though the mayor is pleased with the direction Penticton is trending as the city tries to recover from economic repercussions of COVID-19.
“When it comes to tourism and the economic value to the City of Penticton, it’s getting better and better each day,” said Vassilaki. “I think we’re going to come out of this in a fairly healthy situation.”