Of all the major industries out there, tourism may be the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as all travel (with the exception of essential travel) was put on hold.
For Tourism Kamloops, it was, perhaps not shockingly, the biggest challenge of 2020.
“It’s really impacted our business and industry,” says the organization’s CEO, Beverly DeSantis. “Since the shutdowns toward the end of March, our accommodation partners have seen downturns up to 60,70, 80 per cent, depending on what you're talking about.”
Tour operators across the region have shut down as well, or have drastically scaled back their operations.
While most sectors considered part of tourism struggled, some had big years.
“Our golf sector just boomed,” DeSantis says. “Initially, they were concerned about what they would do to recoup their business; it wasn’t’ long before they realized people like their outdoor spaces.”
Earlier this year, Castanet spoke to local bicycle shops that were struggling to keep up with a demand for similar reasons.
Another sector that pivoted well was the Kamloops wine industry, DeSantis says, with local wineries able to provide virtual tastings and offer outdoor walks through their vineyards to visitors.
“It resonated with people this year,” DeSantis says of the local wine businesses.
As the vaccine gets doled out, she says the local tourism industry is well positioned for a rebound. Being a smaller city, it’s attractive to people concerned about dense population centres like Vancouver or Toronto.
As Kamloops has traditionally seen a lot of one-night stays, as people pass through the area, Tourism Kamloops has been working on extending those stays, even before the pandemic. Now, they’re seeing that happen more.
“We’re finding our overnight stays are increasing to two or three nights,” DeSantis says. “This is boding well for us.”
Mixing into the that is the outdoors factor.
“Our image and content always speaks to mountain biking, fishing, our waterways, our mountains, our lakes,” she explains. “This all bodes well for people coming out of a pandemic that are a little hesitant to get to those mainstream destinations.”
And it doesn’t hurt that Kamloops isn’t reliant on air travel, with roads coming from the east, west, north and south. Rail offers another option.
That being said, DeSantis is hopeful 2021 will be a better year. In that light, the board and team at Tourism Kamloops is being proactive, she says, to take advantage of the constantly changing situation.
The organization, like many others, has its share of struggles. While the team hasn’t shrunk, really, Tourism Kamloops has had to deal with a shrinking budget, as money from the accommodation sector, a major source of funds, dropped. Luckily, DeSantis says, the provincial and federal governments have provided timely financial help and Tourism Kamloops saved up.
“We’re able to market quite heavily when the time is right, and when we can start inviting people into our city,” she says, noting they’ll take their cues from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
To that end, she encourages people to be patient and for locals, and everyone, to follow directions from B.C.'s health authorities.
“We’ll get there, we just have to be patient,” she says.
Speaking of federal and provincial governments, it was a two-way road. While funds came to the tourism industry, the tourism industry was also invited to have a more active role in conversations with upper levels of government.
“Tourism was at the table for every one of those conversations for the first time ever,” DeSantis says.
Going forward, she says one lesson taken from all of this was a personal one.
“As humans, we’re not meant to be isolated. We need to, I need to, take time to treasure those relationships,” she says.
From a business point of view, it was more about staying the course as new information and hype arrived each day.
“You somehow get pulled along through all the negativity, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel at times,” she says. “As soon as you get yourself out of that and get proactive, there are opportunities.”
Tourism Kamloops is planning a robust and aggressive plan for 2021 and 2022, DeSantis adds, and asks others to follow suit.
“Keep moving, keep seeking answers,” she says. “Be proactive, be present.”