The tourism industry remains committed to protecting its members and customers by following public health orders and guidelines. There is no doubt, however, that the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and a record-breaking number of wildfires created numerous challenges for tourism businesses this past summer, some of which have continued into the fall season.
Summer Industry Indicators
Summer travel numbers to Kelowna and the Central Okanagan reflect the impact felt by local tourism businesses due to COVID-related travel restrictions and devastating wildfires throughout the province. And in many cases, it shows that the opportunity to recover lost revenue in early 2021 was abruptly cut in half resulting in a drop in August industry indicators.
June 2021 saw approximately 198,840 overnight visitors to the Central Okanagan, which represents a year-over-year decrease of 12%. Visitation numbers were up in July 2021 when approximately 346,630 overnight visitors came to the region, representing a 17% increase over July 2020. The overnight visitor number tumbled to 284,190 in August 2021, a decrease of 12% compared to August 2020.
Hotel occupancy numbers also show a tale of two very different summer months. As travel restrictions eased in June, hotel occupancy levels were at approximately 51.2%, an increase of 14.5 points over 2020. In July, hotel occupancy reached 84.4%, representing an increase of 14.4 points over 2020. However, those increases stopped in August 2021 when hotel occupancy was at 69.8%, a 10% drop over August 2020. As a comparison, August is usually the month with the highest hotel occupancy in the year, often approaching or exceeding 90% occupancy.
Earlier in the year, we were already seeing strong bookings into the fall season. The ongoing uncertainty and challenges have decreased some of that optimism, though we are hopeful we will see visitation levels grow over last year. The new BC Vaccine Card is intended to help businesses remain open and able to serve customers, which is so important to their survival. We hope to see hotel occupancy levels averaging over 50% through to the end of the year.
This uncertainty has also led to further postponement of many business meetings and small conferences, which are waiting until 2022 with hopes of increased capacity and certainty. Our business development team continues to secure and coordinate business leads while helping meeting and event planners understand BC’s public health measures and supporting their changing group business needs.
While leisure travel numbers will naturally decrease as fewer people travel in the fall and winter months, we are re-activating our marketing activities to help local businesses persevere, encouraging residents and visitors to explore Kelowna safely and abide by public health measures in place within our province, our community, and at individual businesses.
Though we do not know exactly what the fall holds, we do know that local tourism businesses continue to need our support. With a challenging summer behind us, we can focus on working to help them as much as possible in the coming months. That means getting out and supporting local, inviting friends and family to safely visit our region, and welcoming visitors back to explore Kelowna safely.
You can see recent tourism industry indicators on our Tourism Research webpage. If you have any questions about Tourism Kelowna’s research, please contact Sara Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions about Tourism Kelowna’s marketing, please contact Chris Shauf at email@example.com.