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Is it summer yet? COVID uncertainty makes B.C. vacation planning complicated

Last Updated Mar 23, 2021 at 9:07 pm PDT

Summary

Consumers planning summer vacations increasingly demanding flexible booking and cancellation policies

Residents become tourists at home in Okanagan

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — We all want a road trip, beach vacation, or vineyard adventure, but what that looks like in the summer of 2021 is still unclear in British Columbia.

Residents have been asked to remain in their own health authorities since November, forgoing any non-essential travel.

But as we look ahead to the warmer months, tourism operators say they are busy taking calls and questions about the impending travel season in British Columbia, even as daily COVID-19 case counts are at their highest since January.

Lisanne Ballantine, the president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, says the last year has left many small business owners looking forward to the revenue potential of summer ‘21.

“It’s a very, very tricky time for anyone in the tourism business and we sure encourage people, residents even, to shop local and continue supporting those businesses,” she says.

Flexible policies

She adds operators in the Okanagan are hearing from inquiring minds seeking flexible cancellation and amendment policies to protect them from a sudden or unforeseen change in COVID-rules.

“We can tell because the Tourism Kelowna website has gotten a lot of hits, there’s a lot of research going on and the hotels are just starting to get a lot of inquiries now,” says Ballentine.

She says operators are responding to the demand for more flexibility and certainty in cancellation policies but the season forecast remains cloudy for them as well.

“And it’s tricky: When do they staff up? How can they get their training done in advance of the visitors coming? Are they going to have to do revenue projections based on current health restrictions or can they make some revenue projects for later in the year if things were to perhaps ease up?”

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If case counts reduce, and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry lifts travel restrictions and limitations on gathering for the summer months, it will be a welcome relief for businesses, many of them independent and small in size.

“It’s going to be a different pattern in consumer behavior this year, we know that. We know consumers are starting to look for flexibility so they can make adjustments as needed,” says Ballentine.

Supporting local

While the uncertainty of the summer looms over many who are trying to plan ahead, some people in the Okanagan seem to be making the best of what’s in front of them. Balletine says more local residents are coming to the visitor information centre.

“That means they are looking locally for that at-home tourism experience and now it’s never been more important to please, support local businesses and local tourism experiences,” she says.

On Monday, Henry revealed 1,437 new infections and 16 deaths related to COVID-19 in B.C. since Friday. She also warned younger people are increasingly experiencing severe illness and landing in the hospital.

In B.C., some tourism hotspots are staffed by young people living in shared quarters or staff housing.

Staff housing has been a COVID hotspot in places like Big White and Whistler ski resorts, which have had to manage large and drawn-out outbreaks. These types of living spaces have been the focus of early vaccination efforts by the province.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 variants continue to spread and account for more of the overall infection totals.