Tourism keeps going through the haze

The negative effect on Okanagan tourism activities wasn’t universal though

Downtown Penticton streets are quiet after yellow, smoky skies forced organizers to suspend afternoon Super League races. Brennan Phillips/Western News

Thick smoke blanketing the Okanagan over the weekend forced the cancellation of the new Super League Triathlon and the Peach City Classic soccer tournament.

The negative effect on tourism activities wasn’t universal though.

“I’ve been speaking with operators and some of the ones that don’t specifically rely on the beach are noticing that their traffic is good because people are changing their activity tactics,” said Travel Penticton’s executive director, Thom Tischik.

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One of those is the Time Flies Indoor Playground, where Tricia Hernes said they’ve had more business than normal.

“There are a lot of visitors coming to town, hoping to enjoy the beaches with their kids and haven’t been able too,” said Hernes.

During the really thick smoke over the weekend, she said staying indoors was probably a good choice.

“We don’t really know the long-term effects on kids, and there are lots of kids that have breathing difficulties.”

Unlike the many tourism-oriented businesses, Hernes said the indoor play centre is quieter in the summer.

“We are pretty opposite to the rest of the local industry. It’s usually quiet with a little bit of tourism. It’s been a much different August so far,” she said, noting they are one of the few businesses offering indoor options. “This is where we step up.”

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The Pinnacles Football Club wasn’t so lucky. They’ve been cancelling and rescheduling practices or games whenever the Air Quality Health Index is above seven, into the “high risk” range.

“We’re constantly looking at Environment Canada’s website to see what the smoke rating is and what the forecast is,” said Derrick Webb, speaking for the club. “It’s just health concerns. We are just concerned about kids’ health.”

That concern also prompted them to call off the Peach City Classic, a major annual tournament that was expecting more than 40 teams to participate this year, many travelling to Penticton from the Lower Mainland and other areas of the province.

“Teams come to this tournament because of our facilities. Being in one location (King’s Park) and everybody tells us we have the best fields in the province,” said Webb, adding that they are hoping to have it back next year, but it won’t be rescheduled this year.

“We had to send out an email this morning to say that we are refunding everyone’s registration. There is no chance now,” said Webb.

There may be a chance to make up some of the lost time for local players.

“We have the opportunity to add a week or two in October. Last October the weather and fields were in very good shape right until the end of October,” said Webb.

Tischik said they have been working hard throughout the season to spread the message that Penticton is “still happening,” with lessons learned from last year’s also smoky tourism season.

“Prior to it coming in this thick, we were doing our real-time campaign,” said Tischik.

That involved getting accommodators, tourism operators and others to stream live images of the area.

“That was extremely well-received. Penticton was being proactive to show folks that maybe it was smoky in the distance, but there is still great things to do close by,” he said. “This last several days has certainly changed the formula on that. We’re not pushing the realtime as much and kind of just seeing if we can ride this out.

“Hopefully this breeze that we are getting right now is going to move some smoke out of here.”

The difference from last year is that everyone has smoke this year, according to Tischik, adding that he recently flew into the Calgary airport and found the smoke thick there.

“It is right across into Saskatchewan and ribbons of it into Manitoba,” said Tischik.

But for the future, Tischik is remaining positive.

“I don’t agree that it is the new normal,” said Tischik, noting that he was born and raised in the valley. “We had years where we had summers that were hot, hot, hot as a kid. There were certainly times when it was smoky in the valley … and then you would get a summer or two that were cool and rainyish and there were hardly any fires.

“A new normal is when we get a trend that is going to last maybe 10 years. It’s premature to jump out and say it is a new normal after just two seasons.”


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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