Tourism in the Okanagan continues to take a major hit as strict health measures to combat the COVID-19 virus remain in place.
On March 31, the District of Lake Country council decided to suspend a Lake Country of Commerce contract, ceasing tourism operations for the remainder of the year.
Karen Miller, communications officer with the District of Lake Country said the decision was an easy one.
“Funding a service that may put people at risk during this COVID‐19 pandemic may present a risk to the district both legally and financially, on top of the greater community health risk,” said Miller.
“The service is not considered essential and there is potential that non‐essential services will be forced to shut down in the near future. So, this termination gets ahead of the issue, rather than having the district terminate the service mid‐season.”
Other tourism marketing and support agencies also pivoted their own messaging given the changes in the sector resulting from COVID‐19.
According to Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice president of industry and destination stewardship with Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, all Okanagan tourist centres (other than Lake Country) remain in operation and are doing so online while encouraging people to stay home and to visit the Okanagan when the health ministers restrictions are lifted.
“The biggest thing is the health and well-being of everyone,” said Walker-Matthews.
“At this point, there is really no tourism opportunity other than asking people to stay home and asking people to visit when it’s safe to do so and when those in authority say it’s time that we can go out again.”
The spring and summer months have historically been an important time for the Okanagan economically, often seeing a large increase in tourism during this time. Walker-Matthews said there’s no way of sugar codding it — Kelowna and the Okanagan are being heavily affected, which is why the local tourism sector is doing everything it can to be best positioned for when the pandemic concludes.
“This is the time of year that everyone in this region makes their livelihood, from the small business operator to the large business operator,” she said.
“We are on calls daily with our stakeholders trying to assess their situation and eventually hopefully access the funding that they’re so desperately in need of. Our CEO Glenn Mandziuk is also on a call every day with the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture and weekly with the tourism minister. So, we’re trying to make sure that information is communicated and streamlines up to the government in the best way possible to help the industry survive this.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry continues to preach social and physical distancing while urging British Columbians to halt non-essential travel within the province, especially to smaller communities that may not be able to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak.
On April 2, Henry cited the holiday weekend coming in just over a week, asking people to celebrate Easter in a “safe way” so the holiday doesn’t lead to more outbreaks.
“We need to think about what we can do to support people in practicing their faith without having to have in-person gatherings,” Henry said, noting she was heartened that many faith groups have already stopped face-to-face gatherings to keep their seniors safe.
As of April 6, a total of 1,266 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in B.C., 783 of which have recovered from the illness and 39 people have died.