It has been over five months since COVID-19 impacted our local, national, and global tourism industry. During that time, many businesses and entire industries have shifted focus to survive the pandemic. It’s been said that the tourism industry was among the first impacted, one of the most severely hit, and will be one of the last to fully recover. We are starting to get more research and data back about how our local industry has been impacted, how it has performed, and signals as to what may lie ahead.
Spring: A Virtual Shut-Down
Non-essential travel virtually came to a halt between March and mid-June resulting in lost revenue, decreased staffing, and delayed openings for local businesses. Destination marketing was temporarily put hold as Tourism Kelowna’s team recalibrated to focus on getting residents to #exploreKelownalocal until travel was recommended again.
Spring hotel occupancy levels were the lowest on record for these months and dropped to an average of 20.9% (last year they were around 67%), including an all time low in April of 11.7%.
Summer: Above Provincial Average, but Still Below Normal
When BC moved into Phase 3 of its Restart Plan, Tourism Kelowna re-activated marketing efforts but only within the province. As travel within BC opened up again, visitors returned to Kelowna and area for their summer vacations. While activity levels increased faster than initially anticipated, they were and still remain lower than previous years.
Hotel occupancy levels increased to 36.5% in June and 70.3% in July, whereas in 2019 both months were around 80%. Overall, BC's hotel occupancy in July was 48.2%. After months of decreases in visitor numbers, June and July saw increased visitor numbers to Kelowna and the Central Okanagan over last year. Important to note that more than 2/3rds of July's visitors were from within British Columbia. To see the month-by-month breakdown, visit our industry indicators page.
Rebound? A Closer Look at the Data
While hotel occupancy and visitation numbers are increasing—and remain higher than the provincial average—the data also reveals that length of stay is shorter than normal. More people are coming to Kelowna, but they are spending less time here.
Lower than normal hotel occupancy paired with higher than normal visitation indicates more people may be staying with friends and family or in other accommodations, like short-term rentals or campgrounds.
The travel booking window is currently very short. In fact, one online travel site noted that about 1/3 of bookings were happening within the week of travel. Looking into September, bookings through the Labour Day weekend appear strong, but then drop sharply and continue at that level through to the end of the year. This is concerning as after a challenging first half of 2020, businesses will need to generate revenue in the second half of 2020 to continue operations. Our efforts to support local businesses, to focus on providing information to travellers and residents, and to remind visitors to #exploreKelowna safely and responsibly will continue.
Heading into fall, Tourism Kelowna will continue to focus our marketing activities within the province until inter-provincial travel is again encouraged. Our marketing message will encourage longer stays where visitors can slow down and take in more of what Kelowna and the Central Okanagan has to offer. Good weather combined with safe community health conditions would drive the strong visitation numbers needed to extend revenue for local businesses into the fourth quarter.
If you have questions about marketing research, please contact Sara Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you have questions about Tourism Kelowna’s marketing and communication strategy, please contact me at email@example.com.