OSOYOOS — During the peak of tourism season in Osoyoos, the unexpected heavy smoke that filled the valley caused visitors to cut their vacations short and discouraged others from coming. While this happened at the end of August, the tourism industry is still feeling some effects.
Don Brogan, the general manager at Walnut Beach Resort, says he was expecting the hote to be nearly full but once the smoke rolled in, the occupancy rate dropped down to 35-40 per cent.
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“From the 21st of August of when the fires started, my business just tanked,” he says. “When the valley was filled with smoke, 40 per cent of my arrivals cancelled at that moment and then each day after that — the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — we were running 10 to 20 cancellations calling in saying ‘No, we’re not coming, not coming.’”
The owner of Lakeview Motel, Derrick Davies, saw a 30 per cent financial hit because of the smoke. He’s taking the loss in stride.
“Yes, being 30 per cent down, it does make a terrific difference to the bottom line,” he says. “That’s what running a business is: you’ve got to take the good and the bad.”
Destination Osoyoos, the organization that promotes tourism in the town, estimates there were about 30-40 per cent fewer overnight guests compared to August 2014.
The effects of that are now spilling over to the organization, which relies on a 2 per cent hotel tax it receives every time a guest checks into one of the hotels or motels.
With last month’s lower-than-expected occupancy rate, it estimates a $30,000 loss.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t be able to deliver all that we want to deliver, it just means we may have to cut back on how much we were going to spend on that campaign,” says Gail Scott, the managing director at Destination Osoyoos.
Scott was also hoping to hire a third full-time staff member to oversee visitors’ services and administration, but says that likely won’t be happening this year.
But there is some good news anticipated for the tourism town.
With the low Canadian dollar, Osoyoos is anticipating to have a higher-than-average number of visitors come to stay over the winter.
However, hotel and motel owners aren’t expecting to recover what was lost during those 10 smokey days during prime tourist season.
“Even if you sold out your hotel, you wouldn’t come anywhere near the revenue that you’d get in July or August numbers,” says Brogan.