It was a busy start to Kelowna’s tourist season, as evidenced by the hours of traffic that filled the Cokihulla Highway on Sunday afternoon as people returned to the Lower Mainland after the May weekend.
Kelowna Tourism President Lysanne Ballantyne believes pent-up travel demand due to the pandemic has made people want to return for a short vacation.
“I think the long May weekend we just had was probably one of the best ever. Anyone who lives here or visits the Kelowna area has felt it. Places were activated, there were queues that unfortunately come along with the long May weekend, but hotels were full, restaurants and patios were very happy,” Ballantyne said.
According to Tourism Kelowna, the industry has remained strong throughout the pandemic in terms of visitors, but hotels and restaurants have been hit quite hard and they are happy that they are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“It is very important to achieve a revival of tourism. Only in British Columbia are we one of the main generators of economic impact for the province. Just here in the Kelowna area, this is a $2.1 billion business,” she explained.
“That means we generate direct costs, we create jobs, and we also generate tax revenue that cities can use to build and improve the quality of life for residents.”
In terms of the short-haul domestic tourism market, approximately 70 percent of Kelowna’s tourists come from the Lower Mainland. Ballantyne said the traffic problems that hit the headlines on Sunday are not a concern for Kelowna’s tourism.
“We are happy that the right people are doing the right things and moving as fast as they can in a large scale overhaul like Coquihalla. What we’re keeping a close eye on is the price of gas for the people who drive here… but what we’re worried about is that when they get here… will they have extra money to spend once they get there? here? she asked.
The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure says traffic will remain slow during the summer months while renovations continue, especially over long weekends. The province reports that traffic jams caused an average of 80-minute delays on Sunday, during the long Victoria Day weekend.
“Drivers should ensure they have a full tank of gas, take extra food and water with them, obey all speed limits, keep an eye on workers on the road, and consider traveling at off-peak times,” the ministry said in a statement.