Penticton, and for that matter the whole Okanagan, is “still happening.”
Using that catchphrase, and hashtag on social media, Travel Penticton is hoping to rein back tourists that may be only receiving news that the province is on fire.
“We are working diligently to get that message out there,” said Thom Tischik, executive director of Travel Penticton. “We are doing Facebook live posts to show people, hey, have a look, our weather is great. Did we have a smoky day or two? Absolutely, but we are at the start of a great summer.”
Tischik said it has been a rocky start for the tourism sector with tourists holding the perception that Penticton was underwater and now “surrounded by wildfires.
“It is why we are using ‘still happening’ as our slogan right now. It can’t make it anymore clearer that Skaha Beach is in wicked shape and we are getting more and more beach back from Okanagan Lake. We need to get the message out to the world that we are in good shape here,” said Tischik. “And, it’s not just here. On the coast, the island — the province is still functioning.
Ellen Walker-Mathews, vice-president destination and industry development for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, said they are also working hard to ensure potential out-of-province tourists that the sunny Okanagan is ready to welcome them.
“It’s been a challenge for our stakeholders and we are working to counteract any perception that the entire province is on fire,” she said. “Destination B.C. has been making daily photos available and speaking with media in places like Calgary and Edmonton to make sure the messaging and journalism is responsible. Of course, we want to make sure our colleagues up dealing with wildfires in the north are well looked after and safe, but people also need to understand the entire province isn’t on fire.”
Walker-Mathews said she has heard from tourism operators in the Okanagan that people are cancelling because they fear wildfires and the air quality.
It is exactly what one Calgary woman who contacted the Penticton Western News did. She recently cancelled her trip because she has a six month old baby and feels the air quality would be dangerous. She was disappointed that a Penticton motel charged her $150 for cancelling with 11 days notice because she fell outside of their policy of 15 days.
“Due to the state of emergency, I think this is very disgraceful and will re-think coming to Penticton in the future. I think that I should be reimbursed and will tell everyone in my shuttle van, I drive tons of people in Calgary, not to book a vacation there. Bad mistake for them,” said Doreen Lypchuk, who is originally from Castlegar.
Lypchuck said she had seen the wildfires in the news and the smoke warnings and that is what prompted her to cancel. However, she said had it not been for her young grandson she most likely would have come to Penticton to visit anyways.
“I’m bummed out about it. I figured the motel would cut us some slack on the $150 because of the fires and I gave as much notice as I could. Maybe next year I will be able to visit.”
Walker-Mathews said responsible messaging from out-of-province media outlets might have led to a better outcome in that situation.
“This is the kind of thing we are hearing, people cancelling in advance. For some accommodators they can handle it, but the smaller operators really depend on tourism and it can devastate their businesses. Part of that cancelling has to do with the right messages about what is happening in the Okanagan. Look at today, it is beautiful outside. You can’t say what the weekend will look like anymore than two weeks from now. Predicting future fires is a really dangerous way to go.”
Walker-Mathews said there is always the risk of fire and smoke in the Okanagan every summer and if there were a major issue that warranted people to stay away, she said TOTA would be the first to tell people.
“However, we have had great skies the past few days and we need to get that message out, from Salmon Arm to Osoyoos, that we are looking beautiful. The roads are open, there are no fires in the immediate area and it is summer as usual here.”