Despite the number of people that’ll not be travelling to the Wells Gray area for tourism this summer due to travel restrictions and social distancing, Tourism Wells Gray (TWG) is staying optimistic none the less.
Stephanie Molina, executive director for TWG, said there came a glimmer of hope when the province of B.C. announced plans to restart B.C. on May 8.
“I think that for those (operators) who want to stay open and can stay open for the season, there’s certainly an opportunity for the domestic market. For British Columbia, the people who are tourists most in the province are British Columbians and so I think we can get some of that share in our region for sure,” said Molina.
“Looking optimistically, as much as we can, what people will be looking for is wide open spaces, where they can recreate while social distancing, which our area has a lot of.”
Since there’ll be less travel involving flights, most people will be looking at road trip destinations somewhat close to home, like the Kamloops market, so when the time is right and more direction is given from the government on what’s safe in terms of recreation, there are hopes to draw visitors from those kinds of locations.
“Certainly it’s a good step forward to see that B.C. Parks will be opening for day use in mid-may and campsites in June, that’s even better than what I’d hoped to hear,” Molina said.
“I think our communities have a lot of work to do, it’s just how to prepare ourselves to welcome visitors when the time is right.”
Molina admitted tourism in the area will look much different this given there’ll be less of an influx of foreign visitors from places like Germany and the Netherlands, who typically make up a large portion of the tourists that come to the area, but there’d still be the opportunity to attract others from the Interior and other parts of the province when it’s safe to do so.
About half of the tourists who come to visit the Wells Gray area each year are from B.C. and a few from provinces further afield, which Molina said account for roughly 200,000 people annually.
She said she’d been in touch with a lot of the accommodation owners and other operators that rely on visitors for their economy and though they’ve seen dramatic cancellations in bookings this year, the Transmountain Pipeline workers should at least balance out some of those vacancies as well.
“We’re already talking to travel companies who are looking to start filling the experiences here in Wells Gray/Clearwater, and also a lot of people have been rebooking from this year until next year, so the desire to come is definitely still there,” said Molina.
“It’ll be a matter of seeing if we can attract responsible visitors who feel comfortable enough to travel in this environment and be mindful of the restrictions in place for the safety of our community.”
Molina reiterated that it’s been a tough time for accommodation companies, the business community and guiding companies locally, and though nobody saw the COVID-19 crisis coming, those behind the scenes are working diligently to make sure the tourism industry stays afloat.
“We can be there to support our industry, not just with marketing when the time is right, but also advocacy to government to ensure our regional tourism organizations and the province understand the challenges our community is facing with hopes that we can secure additional funding and help for recovery.”