Tourists encouraged to stay optimistic

“(Mother Nature) reminded us of her power and her fury… but we don’t quit here…”

Summer is well underway, but with floods and smoky skies getting so much attention there are notably fewer tourists taking advantage of the region’s assets.

Conrad Wiker, the owner of Whiplash Cable Park, has definitely experienced a less robust season than in years past, having not even opened yet.

“We’re hoping to open soon, but right now Mother Nature is still the boss,” Wiker said Wednesday, as friends and clients alike joined his crew to clear the cable park of debris that washed to shore during the flood.

“She’s reminded us of her power and her fury… but we don’t quit here.”

The bottom line, he said, is the park will survive what is so far a dismal season and is due to community support.

Another water focused business facing an unseasonable lull is Wibit Water Park.

Riley Gallagher has run the Wibit in Kelowna for years and his dad recently opened a Peachland and Penticton location.

Plans for an Osoyoos Wibit were recently approved and it’s expected to be installed next year.

“It’s been a little slow,” said Randy Gallagher.

“With our waterparks we don’t usually go into the third week of June.

“In Penticton, for example, a lot of the beach was non existent, it was under water and that’s hard when the whole idea is going to the beach and playing in the waterparks.”

In Kelowna, however, last year’s sand restoration project created more space to play and that’s made the Wibit even more of a draw, he said.

The trouble on this side of the lake has been the negative publicity.

“With the high-water mark, a lot of tourists held off coming this year,” he said.

“Now we are all back to normal and hopefully the smoke will go away.

“It doesn’t affect our business directly, but it does put a damper on tourism. People don’t want to come to a smoke filled valley and pay for hotels.”

Ellen Walker-Mathews, vice-president of destination and industry development for the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association said her organization is working hard to ensure potential out-of-province tourists know that the sunny Okanagan is ready to welcome them.

“It’s been a challenge for our stakeholders and we are working to counteract any perception that the entire province is on fire,” she said.

“Destination B.C. has been making daily photos available to media and speaking with media in places like Calgary and Edmonton to make sure the messaging and journalism is responsible.

“Of course, we want to make sure our colleagues dealing with wildfires in the north are well looked after and safe, but people also need to understand the entire province isn’t on fire.”

Walker-Mathews said there is always the risk of fire and smoke in the Okanagan every summer and if there was a major issue that warranted for people to stay away, she said TOTA would be the first to tell people.

“However, we have had great skies the past few days and we need to get that message out, from Salmon Arm to Osoyoos, that we are looking beautiful,” she said.

“The roads are open, there are no fires in the immediate area and it is summer as usual here.”