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Impact of wildfires on tourism still being assessed


The latest numbers from Destination BC show the summer tourism season got off to a good start in B.C., but the statistics don’t cover the period after wildfires in the Interior and Cariboo regions triggered a province-wide state of emergency that has now been extended to Sept. 1.

The tourism industry is still working to assess the potential hit to the sector from the fires. Speaking during a BC Wildfire Service conference call earlier this month, Destination BC’s Maya Lange said the organization is worried about tourism operators outside the areas directly affected by the fires.

“Unfortunately, some of our regions and communities that may be hundreds of kilometres away from the impacted areas have reported cancellations from folks across Canada, the U.S. and overseas,” she said. “This affects tourism businesses and can result in having to lay off employees.”

Paul Kamon, executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism, told Coast Reporter this week that tourist activity on the Coast this season has continued the growth it saw in 2015 and 2016 and, if anything, the wildfire situation may have led to more visitors coming here.

Kamon cautions that it’s difficult to get more than anecdotal evidence to support that notion, but he said visitor information centres have been reporting inquiries from travellers who originally planned trips to the Interior and Cariboo, but decided to visit the Sunshine Coast instead.

He also said Sunshine Coast Tourism has been hearing that some tourists who had already planned trips to the Coast have been staying longer instead of moving on to other parts of the province impacted by the fires.

Kamon said the fires have made headlines worldwide and been getting a lot of news coverage in places like Washington State, which is home to a big pool of potential visitors to B.C.

He said regional organizations like Sunshine Coast Tourism have been working with Destination BC to try to get a clear message out to potential visitors about how the wildfires could impact their travel plans.

“A lot of our American visitors may see stories about British Columbia on the news and think that the whole province is on fire and decide to go somewhere else, and that’s a big concern for us,” he said.

Kamon also said the tourism industry has been responding to the fires in much the same way as other community groups and doing what they can to help colleagues in the fire zones. “A lot of [tourism] businesses are in jeopardy because of loss of business, loss of sales, loss of activity… There’s going to be economic effects beyond the fires themselves.” 

It’s going to be a couple of months before any hard data is available, but Kamon said heading into the Labour Day weekend Sunshine Coast Tourism has been seeing all the signs of a good season. He points to recent BC Ferries statistics that show a big increase for all three Sunshine Coast routes.

“We have one more big push coming through as we approach Labour Day, and I think we’re going to see a very busy Sunshine Coast,” he said. “I’d like to carry that even further beyond Labour Day and start to recognize the Sunshine Coast as a great place to visit all year round.”