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80% of hotel rooms sitting empty this Labour Day long weekend

Wildfires aren't a threat, the sun is shining, the smoke has cleared and the travel ban has been lifted.

But, it's all too little too late to save the Okanagan from a Labour Day long weekend with no tourists and none of their money.

"For a typical Labour Day long weekend in the Okanagan, hotel occupancy would be 80 to 90%, if not a sell out," said Ingrid Jarrett, president of the BC Hotel Association.

"Okanagan hotels will be lucky if they're 20% full this weekend.

</who>From left, Amy Nunn from Prestige Hotels, Cedric Younge from Hyatt Place, Lisanne Ballantyne of Tourism Kelowna and Ingrid Jarrett, president of the BC Hotel Association.

That dire sentiment is echoed by Cedric Younge, the president of the Kelowna Hotel Motel Association, that group that represents 33 properties with 3,800 rooms in the city.

"Once the state of emergency was declared due to the wildfires, our typically sold-out long weekend dropped to only 20 to 30% occupancy," said Younge, who is also general manager of the Hyatt Place hotel in Kelowna.

"Hotels can drop prices and put out whatever come-back messaging they want, but leisure guests aren't going to return for this long weekend or at all in the fall."

Yonge said as part of a chain, Hyatt Place has fared better than most and will end up being about half full this weekend.

"But, I know a lot of hotels are going to be a lot less than that," he said.

"I assume some of the smaller independent hotels that rely on summer revenues to get through the winter won't make it through this winter."

With at least a month's worth of tourism impacted, Kelowna will not achieve it's usual annual tourist count of two million a year and won't meet the typical $2.1 billion annual economic impact.

We can hope that people come to stay with friends and family at a higher rate than they're coming to hotels.

</who> The 161-room Hyatt Place in Kelowna will be about half full this Labour Day long weekend.

This calamity started Thursday, Aug. 17 when all hell broke loose with the McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna and the blaze jumped Okanagan Lake sparking the Clifton McKinley wildfire.

A state of emergency was declared, neighbourhoods burned to the ground, thousands had to flee their homes and more were on evacuation alert.

The provincial government instituted a travel ban to the Okanagan to make hotel rooms available to evacuees and keep tourists off the roads and lake while firefighters did their job.

However, most evacuees stayed with family or friends, bunked in their RVs or simply fled the area.

So, hotels did not fill up with evacuees and

The travel ban, was originally set to expire Monday, Sept. 4, effectively wiping out tourism for the Labour Day long weekend.

However, as wildfire conditions improved quickly, the travel ban was lifted Wednesday, Aug. 23.

But, as mentioned previously, the damage had been done.

Tourists had already cancelled their Okanagan plans in droves, made other arrangements and can't be immediately lured back.

Jarrett is quick to point out that this isn't just a hotel problem -- the mass cancellations have also pulled the rug out from under golf courses, wineries, restaurants, tour operators and activity organizers.

</who>The 67-room Prestige Beach House in Kelowna has 60% occupancy with a lot of rooms filled with evacuees.

"It has definitely not rebounded," said Amy Nunn, vice-president of sales and marketing for Prestige Hotels, which has 15 properties throughout BC, including hotels in the hard-hit communities of Kelowna, Vernon, Salmon Arm and Kamloops.

"Typically, we're sold-out on long weekends. But we're at 60% occupancy and that's only because we have a lot of evacuees staying with us."

</who> A hotel room has an expiry date every day, if it isn't occupied one night that revenue can never be recovered.

Tourism Kelowna was guarded in its assessment.

"It's much too early to say at this time what those exact impacts will be," said Tourism Kelowna CEO Lisanne Ballantyne.

"It is important to note that recovery will not be immediate. To date, we have not seen or heard of substantial cancellations past mid-September. We will work on behalf of local tourism businesses and our community to encourage safe and responsible travel to our region."

That brings us to: How does tourism move forward, rebound and recover?

Jarrett said the industry has to get the word out that the Okanagan is open for business and people can come right now to enjoy all the golf, lake, cycling, wine, restaurant and hotel that they always have in the Valley.

Nunn is also hoping for a mid-September bounce back with conferences, golf groups and wine tourists.

Even if the leisure traveller is mostly gone for September, Younge is looking forward to continued corporate business.

And as mentioned, Ballantyne said Tourism Kelowna is at work.

"Plans for our fall advertising remain in place and will be adjusted accordingly," she said.

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