Travel advisories imposed by the B.C. government last week will have profound effects on the local economy and Penticton businesses need help more than ever, one of the city’s leading organizations warns.
As wildfires continue to rage across the Okanagan, tourism-driven events like Ironman Canada have been cancelled.
The Penticton Chamber of Commerce is now speaking out and urging locals to fill the financial void that otherwise would have been filled by tourists.
“It isn’t often that we have an opportunity in August, on what would be Ironman weekend of all times, to be a tourist in our own city,” said Nicole Clark, president of the chamber.
“And while we know that we can’t replace all of the traffic the last two weeks in August brings to Penticton, this is the time to show our restaurants, our wineries, and all those recreation, adventure, and retail outlets that we value and support them.”
Amid a slew of new wildfires and unprecedented damage, B.C. Premier David Eby declared a provincial state of emergency on Friday, Aug. 19. He asked British Columbians to avoid non-essential travel to a number of communities, including Penticton.
With that, as well as the heavy smoke that continued to blanket the air, this year’s edition of Ironman Canada was given the red light.
The event typically welcomes thousands of triathletes and was set for Aug. 27.
“A signature event like Ironman is something that we bank on because it provides our tourists and hospitality-based businesses with that financial injection they need to help pay their fixed costs during the offseason,” said Michael Magnusson, the chamber’s executive director.
The chamber says hotels were quick to inform and vacate guests when non-essential travel advisories were imposed.
But it also claims that upon the cancellation of hundreds of accommodations in the “expectation that droves of evacuees would soon be arriving,” rooms continued to sit empty.
“Instituting a travel ban that resulted in Ironman’s cancellation and curtailed other visitors coming into our city, especially when we see how very little the actual need was for these rooms, is both confusing and disheartening, to say the least,” Magnusson added.
In conjunction with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and the B.C. Hotel Association, the chamber says it will continue to advocate to receive the financial support that is necessary to offset the losses.
“The chamber wishes to extend its gratitude to all of the structural and wildland firefighters who are working to protect homes and critical infrastructure, and our hearts go out to everyone impacted by the wildfires both to the north and south of us,” a press release reads.
There are 370 active wildfires burning across the province, as of Aug. 24.
BC Wildfire Service says the two blazes near Keremeos and Twin Lakes, respectively, remain out of control.
A total of 270 properties within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen remain on evacuation order.