It has been a slow start to the summer tourist season in Sicamous due to floods and fires situations, but the area is still open for business and welcoming guests. -File photo.

Tourist season looking to rebound

Flood, fire situation brings challenges for local economy

It’s hasn’t been a terrific year so far for weather. Or for tourism.

But the tourist season isn’t over yet, and the Shuswap continues to welcome visitors to the region.

“People are nervous,” says Robin Cyr, Shuswap Tourism manager. “First they are hearing floods and now fires. I don’t think this is going to be one of our most stellar tourism years, but people are still coming.”

Currently the biggest issue is concern over smoke and the proximity to fire.

“There’s been a lot of calls with people wanting to know the air quality, so we’ve been really trying to post on social media to show people there are clear skies. We had two-to-three days where it was quite bad, but for the most part we’ve been pretty lucky here.”

Cyr says some of the hardest hit sectors are the campgrounds, where people in tents and RVs are the most concerned about air quality, as there is no indoor space to escape to if the smoke begins to bother them.

Corryn Grayston, general manager at the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce agrees.

“Campgrounds are seeing cancellations, mostly with people worried about how the air quality might affect them, especially is they have respiratory conditions. On the other hand, we are seeing people extend their stays, because they are changing their plans to head further north.”

As well, many people are concerned about the provincial state of emergency.

“We know why the province did this. They have to in order to access federal funds and resources, but it does make it look like the whole province is on fire, when, in reality, the evacuations are 250 kilometres away,” says Cyr.

This sentiment is echoed by Shauna Newsome, president of the Sicamous Chamber of Commerce.

“The headlines about the B.C. state of emergency don’t help. It has a huge impact on perceptions for out-of-province tourists and the instant reaction is to keep away.”

Newsome says she thinks the cold, wet, rainy spring had a significant dampening effect on tourism.

“There were so many road closures, so that didn’t help. And I think many in town commented on how most of our regulars did not come to town as early as normal because of the cool weather and the flooding. For many people here, those people who are owners – who have summer cabins – those are the bread-and-butter, so any delay hurts.”

Newsome says while most of the “regulars” with summer homes have returned and are more aware that the evacuation zones are a long way off, it is the short-term guest market that is more affected.

“We’ve heard of cancellations, definitely. I really noticed the highway just doesn’t seem as busy.”

While numbers at the Sicamous visitor centre are down from last year, the statistics could be skewed because the 2016 numbers are for the entire months of June and July, while the 2017 numbers only go up to July 20.

Heather Black, visitor services counsellor at the centre, says from June to July in 2016 there were 2,917 visitors, with 585 of those locals, 541 from elsewhere in B.C. and 562 from Alberta, with the rest from other areas.

For June and July this year, there has been 1,888 visitors with 198 locals, 252 from B.C. and 339 from Alberta.

“We are getting lots of calls about the smoke, but people are realizing it changes daily, so most have been happy to continue with their plans,” says Black. “And the Stomp certainly has us still booked solid this weekend. Now it’s a matter of getting that message out. C’mon down, we’re open and things are OK.”

It is a similar story at the Salmon Arm Chamber of Commerce Visitor Info Centre. In 2016 from May 1 to July 19, there were 5,219 visitor, while for the same time period in 2017, there have been 4,755 people at the centre.

“There are a fair number of people calling and emailing, mostly about air quality. We are assuring them we are not in a fire alert area, we’ve got relatively good air quality and they are very much welcome,” says Grayston.