Okanagan businesses preparing to welcome both B.C. and Alberta tourists

B.C. health authorities are expected to lift the ban on non-essential travel next week, and the premier has hinted Albertans may also be welcomed back. That’s great news for tourist-reliant businesses in Kelowna and throughout the Okanagan.

“We know Alberta is a really important part of the visitor economy,” said Lisanne Ballantyne with Tourism Kelowna. “We have here, in most normal years, around 20 to 25 per cent of our two million visitors are from Alberta.”

If Albertans are allowed to return this summer, and British Columbians who can’t travel internationally hit the road to visit the Okanagan, it could make for a busy summer for local businesses.

“What I’m expecting is we will be very busy in July and August,” said Dave Paterson with Tantalus Vineyards. “People still want to have some sort of a holiday, so why not come to the Okanagan. It’s a beautiful spot.”

“I think people have a need. I think people want to get out of their house, people want to get away from where they’ve been,” said Gilles Dufort, the general manager of the Harvest Golf Club. “I’m hopeful we’ll see more Albertans than originally thought, and maybe even some people from various places in the province. I think this staycation may resonate with people.”

While hotel bookings are still slow for the summer season in Kelowna, Ballantyne believes that will pick up once the travel restrictions are lifted. And condos rented though sites like VRBO and Airbnb are disappearing fast.

“I think it’s because people are feeling comfortable and safe in environments they know,” she said.

An Okanagan visit will be a little different this summer. “Obviously with COVID we have to adhere to distancing and change how we do our business, so we’ve gone to appointment-only, sit-down, more curated experience,” said Paterson. “It’s very hard to know yet if the increase in local traffic is going to make up for the non-existent American and other international travel, but I’m optimistic.”

Dufort is hopeful staycation visitors can fill the COVID gap at the Harvest.

“We will never recoup what we’ve lost. That is a foregone conclusion in our mind,” he said. “But I think, weather permitting, there’s a sense of optimism right now we’ll do better in July and August than we thought.”

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