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Okanagan wineries ready to welcome out-of-town travellers

Last Updated Jun 16, 2021 at 11:53 am PDT

FILE - Ripe grapes hang on vines protected from birds with a net at the Okanagan Valley's River Stone Estate Winery in Oliver, B.C., Monday, Sept. 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Wineries in the Okanagan are reminding visitors that COVID-19 protocols remain in place

Some winery operators are concerned customers might start acting like the pandemic is over

Recreational travel has once again resumed within B.C. after the province entered the second stage of its restart plan

OLIVER (NEWS 1130) – As British Columbians hit the road again, wineries in the Okanagan are excited to welcome back visitors — but they still have some worries.

Recreational travel within the province has once again resumed, with B.C. entering the second step of its restart plan Tuesday.

“We’re nervous in that it might be a lot of guests, but that’s a good problem to have in hospitality. I’d much rather say we’re too busy, or we’ve got a wait list, or have reservations fill up than be empty, that’s for sure,” Sarah Lefebvre, president of the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association, told NEWS 1130.

She says there’s been a steady flow of people planning visits from out of town, in anticipation of travel restrictions easing.

However, now that British Columbians can travel between health zones for non-essential reasons, Lefebvre says there are concerns customers might start acting like the pandemic is over.

“(Thinking) they can get away with things like, we can travel in groups of 10, or 12, or 15, or we can not wear masks anymore, or we can not socially distance. And all those things are not only important, they’re still required,” she explained, adding all establishments have been following public health orders, and guests need to do so, too. “We still have to wear masks until told otherwise, we still have to socially distance, and we still have to be in groups of six or less.”

She says the hardest part so far has been saying “no” to customer requests.

“For the most part, we’ve had fantastic guests. Everybody’s been just fantastic in the past year. It doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges,” Lefebvre said, adding the one thing many people in her industry are looking forward to is saying “yes.”

“It’s going to be nice when we have a little more capacity to say yes, because in hospitality, that’s our default. We want to say yes, we want to give you the best experience possible. And we know that we can give a better experience if we have the ability to say yes more often.”

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Meanwhile, the Okanagan Falls Winery Association says it’s thrilled to welcome back guests.

“Originally, when there was noise that things were going to start opening up … we had all sorts of bookings and then the rule came out that we weren’t going to be moving between health regions,” recalled the group’s Shauna Thompson.

The cancellations followed, and while locals did take advantage of reservation openings, Thompson says it’s been nice to see those bookings ramp back up.

“We are so exciting to be inviting people back into our wineries and be able to taste those spring releases that we haven’t been able to try yet,” she added.

While there is a lot of excitement, the association is also reminding people that COVID-19 guidelines remain in place.

“Most of our wineries recommend reservations. A few of them do accept walk-ins. It’s something you should check ahead of time, you should consult the winery and ensure that you’re going to be able to get in,” Thompson explained.

She notes last summer provided somewhat of a learning opportunity for local wineries to navigate COVID-19 rules and protocols. She says everyone’s safety is key in ensuring people can continue to visit.