Carli Berry/Capital News Kids climb on the Kelowna Wibit adventure park Wednesday. The owner of the Wibit parks says Okanagan tourism has been affected by the smoke.

Tourism affected by smoky skies

Outdoor tourism has been impacted in Kelowna due to the air quality

With smoke looming over the Okanagan, a number of tourism businesses are suffering.

Rylie Gallagher is the owner of the Wibit parks in Kelowna, Penticton and Peachland.

He estimated business is down by 30 per cent from previous years because of the smoky skies.

“We do get a lot of inquiries if we’re still open due to the smoke… overall it absolutely does affect tourism,” he said, adding the parks are still busy because of the warm weather.

“I don’t have a strong belief there’s other factors at play… just the idea (of smoke) pushes people away from continuing their holidays,” he said.

This is his fourth year operating the park in Kelowna.

“The tough part is it’s happening for our busiest time of year,” said Gallagher.

The Wibit parks are open as usual. Patrons use the park at their own risk, and Gallagher recommends customers check the Air Quality Index before participating.

Also feeling the weight of smoky skies is Rolf von Andrian, the owner of the Myra Canyon Adventure Park. He said Myra Canyon horseback riding tours have been affected by the smoke, but the adventure park remains busy.

“The only thing that is really suffering is the horses,” he said.

The company now offers eight or nine rides a day instead of 15, which would be common for this time of year.

“We do shorter and less rides… the horses hate it and they start coughing so we give them lots of rest,” von Andrian said.

The adventure park has been fully booked up to two weeks in advance, with only a little hick-up at the start of the season.

“It was slower than usual in the beginning of the season because the media blew it up, but it’s been a hair less than last year, which surprises me because of the smoke outside. But our clients don’t seem to be affected by that,” he said.

The business has 25 fire extinguishers and has warned customers of fire and smoke concerns.

Currently the Air Quality Health Index rates the Central Okanagan at seven out of 10, which means there’s a high health risk for infants, the elderly and those who have health complications such as diabetes or heart disease. Strenuous activity is also not reccommended.

According to Tourism Kelowna’s director of marketing Chris Shauf, Tourism Kelowna doesn’t have the numbers yet to see if the smoky skies have affected hotel occupancy.

The first six months from January to June 2017, he said, has been on par with 2016.

“Kelowna is a destination that has so many different activities. One of the things when you travel to a destination is that you have a couple of ideas how you want. It gives you a chance to explore other parts of Kelowna.”

Tourism Kelowna is also monitoring Kelowna’s air quality and recommends activities to visitors dependant on the weather.

“We’ve got fantastic food and wine experiences. We’ve got vibrant arts and culture community so there are lots of things to do,” said Shauf.

Some tourism companies have seen an increase in business due to the weather while others have seen less, he said.

“Through the challenges of 2017, in terms of high water and smoke, its important to note local tourism businesses remain open.”

Tourism Kelowna is currently completing a survey issued by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association to determine the economic impact of the B.C. wildfires.

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