Summer tours and visitors drop from 2017

Smokey skies are being blamed for a decrease in visitors and bus traffic this summer. Photo SPIN.

This summer you may have noticed fewer people wandering the village stroll, shopping at the Sunday Market Day or dining in restaurants. Crowds for the Summer Concert Series also appeared smaller and some local business owners vocalized that business had slowed.

They aren’t wrong, according to Tourism Sun Peaks (TSP) president Arlene Schieven, who said room nights were down from last year’s record breaking bookings.

“There were a number of factors that worked against us,” she explained. “There were fewer bus tours and (more) weather issues.”

Despite beautiful weather for much of the summer each weekend with concerts scheduled saw rain, thunderstorms and power outages, all issues out of organizers’ control.

Schieven said other than the Retro Concert Weekend summer nights are booked last minute and often change with the weather forecast.

She explained last summer vast wildfire smoke in places like Kamloops had people escaping to the mountain for fresh air and regional evacuees staying in the resort also boosted numbers.

Another challenge believed to have been exacerbated by wildfire smoke was a decrease in bus tours stopping overnight in the village.

The Sun Peaks Grand Hotel & Conference Centre saw a 20 to 25 per cent decrease in bus traffic from last year, said Mike Macleod, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

Macleod said wildfire smoke last year was one of the reasons for less bookings this year as they are trips people plan far in advance. He also pointed to affordability of the province as a whole.

“In some of the other locations (on tours), especially B.C., is priced out,” he said.

Bus tours are expensive for the consumer with airfare, transportation costs, lodging in popular expensive destinations and other costs.

Despite being able to offset some of the loss with an increase in corporate and wedding groups the hotel still saw less visitors than in the summer of 2017.

Ellen Walker-Matthews, vice president of destination and industry development for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, said some areas in the region saw record numbers but many, like Sun Peaks, saw the impact of wildfire smoke.

“It’s certainly not just Sun Peaks” she said. “It really depended where you were and how much smoke you had. Smoke was definitely a large factor and I think that it affected many people’s desire to travel from the Lower Mainland or Alberta.”

Macleod said the expectation of even fewer buses next year has shown the importance of diversifying and offering other events or reasons to visit. He added as the largest hotel in the village they understand their role in improving the resort as a whole.

“What else can we do in the destination to offset that,” he said. “New programming or new events… it’s a good reminder we need to keep thinking ahead.”

TSP has also been focusing on similar ways to add variety to seasons other than winter. For example to offset the loss of the Spartan Race this fall they organized a fall festival, expanded the annual Turkey Sale and started a cider festival, which they would like to double in size next year.

“That’s strategic…we’re trying to create a bit more atmosphere and vibrancy in the village.”

Schieven and Macleod both said bookings for this winter are coming in and they are looking forward to winter.

“For early winter we’re looking strong,” she said.