The outdoor summer attractions that normally boost tourism traffic in the Okanagan Thompson region are seeing fewer visitors this year. (File photo)

Thompson Okanagan tourism takes a hit

Lack of international travelers coming to the region causing a devastating impact

The anticipated downturn in the tourism industry for the Thompson Okanagan region due to COVID-19 has been realized heading into July.

The tourism business is off 68 per cent so far this year compared to the same time period in 2019, with little opportunity for lost revenue to be recovered this year.

Statistics posted by TOTA on Friday indicated an 82 per cent drop in regional overnight visitors in as of mid-April and slightly better at 49.7 per cent as of mid-June. Hotel occupancy for the region is expected to hover in the 40 per cent occupancy range for July and August and drop off in September and October.

Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice-president, market stewardship for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, said their feedback indicates June feels better than April-May but concern remains for tourism businesses seeking to survive past the pandemic’s economic impact.

Read more: Lake Country ceases tourist service

Read more: Positive outlook for tourism in Thompson Okanagan

“In the region, we see the summer as strong on the weekends and not as strong through the rest of the week. The absence of international travelers is being felt more in the Thompson area than the Okanagan, as people are normally more drawn there for the outdoor activities,” she said.

“The same thing is happening on Vancouver Island where the larger fishing lodges are seeing a downturn because the loss of international clients can’t be made up by our own domestic market.”

Cancellation of public events and corporate gatherings coupled with a steep decline in international visitors, in particular the closure of the U.S.-Canada border now extended into August, have all taken a chunk out of the tourism revenue market for the region.

“While we see some encouraging signs the industry is still a long way off from where it needs to be,” Walker-Matthews acknowledged.

“We all felt really positive heading into this year, coming off a strong summer last year without any natural disasters that we had faced in previous years. People were coming back and there was a lot of confidence being felt about this year.

“Certainly the pandemic has been a hard blow for everyone, and tourism businesses are trying their best to get through it and look to next year.”

While British Columbians traveling within their own province this summer in larger numbers has been a bright spot, Walker-Matthews said they can’t make up for all the lost tourist traffic.

“I think this summer people are appreciating their own backyard more than ever before,” she said.

To help off-set the COVID-19 impact and flush out existing tourism growth opportunities, TOTA has formed a regional task force with the nine Community Futures offices.

The task force efforts will focus on tourism growth, development, sustainability and long-term resiliency in each of the nine markets represented.

Community Futures is a federal government initiative to promote economic development in Canadian communities outside the larger urban centres.

“The partnership between TOTA and Community Futures is very timely. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic and devastating effect on tourism businesses in the Thompson Okanagan,” said Rob Marshall, executive director of Community Futures Shuswap.

“Helping industry recover and become more resilient is imperative.”

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