On Thursday, April 16, from 1-2:30 p.m. PDT, Tourism Kelowna hosted an online town hall, where the following panelists shared information and answered questions about their organizations' COVID-19 response plans:

  • City of West Kelowna Economic Development & Tourism Manager, John Perrott
  • Downtown Kelowna Association Executive Director, Mark Burley
  • Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Dan Rogers
  • Tourism Kelowna President & CEO, Lisanne Ballantyne

Please see below for a recording of the Virtual Town Hall.


Additional questions submitted during the town hall will be added over time. Answers are paraphrased. The approximate time stamp is noted beside each question so you can search the video for the full answer.  Additional questions can be sent to info@tourismkelowna.com.

Do you have any predictions on when we can open the economy back up again locally? (32:44)

  • Difficult question to answer as there are many variables; honest answer is we do not know.
  • When economy does open, very likely to be in stages, slowly, sector by sector, may even be done community by community.
  • Businesses want clarity on when and how to open, and that feedback has been given to government.
  • Our economy will look different; it will be important to do business planning with that in mind and consider visitors / consumers comfort levels.

What can you do to help owner-proprietor businesses that aren’t eligible for federal loans? (42:03)

  • Goal of programs is to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, but sometimes certain businesses or sectors don’t fall into that category.
  • Need to determine reason why someone isn’t eligible and bring that particular issue forward to business organizations (like Tourism Kelowna, Chamber, etc.). You can also bring it forward to your MLA or MP.
  • To date, government COVID-19 support programs have been broadened to include more types of businesses; further adjustments may continue.

Can you give a detailed explanation of the definition of a qualified employee for the wage subsidy program? (44:36)

  • Sometimes it comes down to the compensation arrangement with an employer and employee.
  • Eligibility information is on the Government of Canada website and is being updated frequently.
  • Recommend you speak with your bookkeeper or accountant.

What kind of pressure is being placed on the government on behalf of small tourism operators (i.e. B&B’s) and what measures can we take to work with media to balance reporting? (47:22)

  • Information is going to government from a number of sectors: tourism, industry sectors, etc.
  • Frequent advocacy work directly with government on behalf of tourism industry. More sector supports for tourism expected to be coming.
  • Recommend linking in to your sector group if you haven’t already.
  • Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC) leads the advocacy work on behalf of the tourism industry in British Columbia.
  • Recommend getting your impact statements to your local DMO (like Tourism Kelowna) or to TIABC directly.
  • Organizations continue to work with media to provide story ideas, background information and facts. If a headline or article is incorrect, organizations and individual businesses can reach out directly to media.

Is there any government mandate saying that tourist businesses must stay closed or is that at their discretion? (51:38)

  • List of orders published on Government of BC website; recommend checking that.
  • Essential services can stay open.
  • Other businesses can stay open if they are able to accommodate the physical distancing measures, keep number of customers below 50, and other items outlined in provincial health orders.
  • Start thinking about ways that you can offer your products or services (or open your business to offer products and services again) in a way that adheres to new requirements.

Will there be free advertising opportunities for businesses (locally and in other provinces?) (55:27)

  • Business organizations will continue to work on stakeholder’s behalf and look at ways to provide further exposure to help businesses.
  • Contact individual business organizations for details.
  • Recommend investing in social media activations and tag in business organizations to help amplify your message.
  • Look at the other platforms at your disposal (e-mail marketing, short-form video, etc.); keep in touch with consumers during this time through those channels as well.

Kelowna has lost out on a few major events and risk losing more of the summer downtown festivals; what can you do to get them back so businesses can benefit from them? (1:01:21)

  • Really disappointing to see these events lost; represents economic loss but also loss of work of many planners and volunteers.
  • Organizations are looking at either postponing or cancelling events; waiting for more details from public health to help make decisions.
  • Tourism Kelowna, in partnership with City of Kelowna, will continue to draw major sporting and cultural events in again as they bring major economic impact, and look at ways to bring back those events that were lost.
  • Looking forward to hosting the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier in March.

What marketing initiatives are being considered for 2021, assuming 2020 season is lost? (1:08:55)

  • Just starting to develop those marketing programs now.
  • Tourism Kelowna has a three-phase response and recovery plan
    • Phase 1: Preserve our visitor economy
    • Phase 2: Push for lost revenues
    • Phase 3: Promote our destination again
  • Tourism Kelowna will be looking at marketing tactics that are lower in the sales funnel to help generate revenues for local tourism businesses.
  • Our economy has changed; visitor behaviour has changed; we will need to look at our approach and our markets and tactics again.
  • Currently responding to what is happening now, but planning for what the next phase will look like is underway.
  • Partnerships are important and already forming.

What have you heard about the impacts of COVID on the agriculture tourism marketplace here? (1:13:25)

  • Not quite in the peak season for visits just yet, so businesses are thinking about this coming season and where they will focus their efforts.
  • Currently working through some issues specifically around labour.
  • Agriculture is an important sector for Kelowna and area, and is a key target area for meeting, conference, and economic development initiatives.

What will trigger our recovery effort and how will we know what to do to open up our economy again, and our individual businesses? (1:16:54)

  • Declarations from public health will be key indicator as will be signals from consumers in terms of confidence and behaviours.
  • Tourism industry will look at indicators like hotel occupancy.
  • Expect that travel may be slow to return as people adjust to the health and economic impacts COVID-19 has brought.
  • Regional residents, travel from visiting friends and family will be the first to return and support local tourism business.

Are your organizations participating in the Central Okanagan Regional Economic Recovery Task Forces (1:20:15)

  • Yes, several organizations have been asked to participate in those task forces. Full details on task force composition is on COEDC’s website.

Question about financing, loans to help again with startup. (1:21:38)

  • Recommend getting in touch with your accountant or bookkeeper.
  • Various learning / education opportunities available to help you make informed decisions.
  • Federal government emergency loan program can help you get through the short term and then plan for the longer term.

Questions that weren’t able to be answered during the tourism town hall.

Do you have any indication on the percentage of local businesses that will have to close, and the percentage that will be able to survive?

  • Unfortunately, not at this time for local businesses. 
  • A recent provincial survey found almost half of BC businesses are not confident in their ability to re-open. 
  • We know as each month passes more businesses are having to make tough decisions.
  • Many business groups and sectors have surveyed their audiences to gauge the severity of impact; many have been impacted but the severity of that impact differs.

Will business owners be entitled to financial assistance to offset losses? Where can I find more information on consolidating loans?

  • Federal, provincial, and municipal governments have made several announcements, with more announcements to come, to provide assistance to businesses. Detailed information is available through their websites.
  • Organizations like Tourism Kelowna, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Kelowna Association, Visit Westside, etc. have compiled links to help direct business owners to that information; available on each of their websites.
  • Recommend talking to your accountant or financial institution for assistance.
  • Organizations like Small Business British Columbia are rolling out additional programs to help businesses navigate and access these programs.

Will business owners be in debt if they seek these programs?

  • Some programs are loans, in which case a portion may be forgivable, but the remainder must be paid back.
  • Other programs include deferred payments and some are subsidies.
  • Best to research the program. There are supports to help you navigate, understand and enroll in these programs.