Penticton sees solid start to tourist season

Numerous weekend events help to keep local hotels, restaurants and wineries bustling over the long weekend

Athletes, quilters and birders were among the range of visitors who poured into Penticton last weekend for the unofficial start of the summer tourist season.

Tourism Penticton CEO Jessie Campbell said local businesses like wineries, restaurants and other attractions are still tallying numbers to compare to previous years, but seem to have enjoyed a solid long weekend.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with a number of businesses, who all report it was gangbusters for the most part this weekend. So that’s really fantastic news to hear that that sector was seeing some really positive numbers,” Campbell said.

“A strong, May long weekend obviously allows businesses to breathe a little easier as we enter our peak tourism season,” she added, partly because it helps refresh the word-of-mouth advertising visitors spread on behalf of the city.

“It’s a pretty important weekend, and so far we’re feeling generally pretty positive about the results,” Campbell said.

Weekend events were highlighted by the Meadowlark Nature Festival, which lured people to the South Okanagan for 90-plus tours and events, many of them in and around the Penticton area. The five-day festival wrapped up Monday.

Meanwhile, the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre played host to the Quilt B.C. 2013 national juried show and exhibition, which was spread over a total of six days. Organizers were expecting to draw at least 1,000 people through the doors.

On the sporting side of things, a 20-team softball tournament took over Lions Park, a 22-team soccer tournament invaded Kings Park, and 170 people crossed the finish line on Sunday to complete the Peach City RunFest races.

All of those out-of-towners provided a lift for local accommodation providers.

The South Beach Gardens Campground on Skaha Lake filled up to 30 of its sites during the weekend, said part-owner Kim Anweiler.

She noted that not all of the 270-site property has opened yet, but said this May long weekend’s numbers were “basically the same” as last year.

Traditional rooms were also popular with visitors.

“I’ve just talked to a few of the hotels and motels, and I know the larger ones said that they were full,” said Rob Appelman, president of the Penticton Hospitality Association.

He said some smaller sites, such as his own Lakeside Villa Motel, only reached about half-capacity.

“But the weather itself was not the greatest and I think a lot of people do wait. If they’re going to go somewhere, they see what the weather is going to be like before taking off,” Appelman said.

He was unable to say how this past May long weekend compared to other years.

Looking ahead, though, he has heard anecdotally that some of the city’s larger hotels are already booked up for summer, which bodes well for smaller sites that will compete to serve last-minute visitors. And the association, which also hosted family-friendly events that attracted about 200 people to Gyro Park on Saturday and Sunday, is optimistic about the summer ahead.

“We should get a lot of tourists coming to town, as long as the weather stays nice,” Appelman said.

May is typically the fifth busiest month of the year for Penticton’s hotels and motels, according to data from B.C. Stats.

For all of 2012, local operators reported total room revenue of $22.5 million, and May accounted for $1.7 million of that total.

The busiest month was August, when revenue touched $6.2 million, followed by June at $4.4 million, July at $2.7 million, and September at $2.4 million.

Total room revenue across the city in 2012 was up from $21.5 million in 2011 and $21.8 million in 2010, the last year for which data is available.

The city’s motels and hotels boast a total of 1,769 rooms, according to Tourism Penticton, while the revenue figures compiled by B.C. Stats are sent in from 35 motel and hotel properties.