Canadian Underwriter

B.C. tourism businesses feeling effects of wildfires, reporting cancellations

August 10, 2017   by The Canadian Press (CPSTF)

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. – Tourism officials are starting to assess the impact of devastating wildfires in British Columbia and have received mixed feedback on the toll so far on the travel sector.

A home destroyed by wildfire is seen on the Ashcroft First Nation near Ashcroft, B.C., on Tuesday August 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Maya Lange of Destination BC, the province’s tourism planning and marketing corporation, said businesses outside the fire zone have complained of cancellations.

“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 because the information they are receiving leads them to believe that B.C. is burning,” Lange said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

Most evidence of a slow down in tourism has been anecdotal and Lange said data reflecting the financial implications won’t be ready for another two to three months.

But the number of tourists coming into the province week-to-week has remained on track. That may mean visitors are changing their travel plans within the province rather than cancelling their trips entirely, Lange said.

“We also want to make sure that tourism operators outside the impacted zones do not suffer due to a lack of understanding as to where the fires are or an assumption that it is too dangerous to travel in B.C.,” she said.

Destination BC has been working to inform potential and current visitors about the areas of the province impacted by wildfires, and Lange said the message appears to be getting through that not all of B.C. is burning.

Jeff Leahy with BC Parks said officials understand restrictions and closures to the backcountry and parks, especially in the hard-hit Cariboo region, can have a significant impact on businesses that rely on access to those areas.

“Any decision to close a park has not been taken lightly and has been made based on the current threat we are facing as a province,” he said.

Related: State of emergency continues as wildfires affect interior B.C.

Destination BC plans to increase its marketing for areas that have been affected by the fires once the regions are safe to travel to in an effort to hasten economic recovery, Lange said.

There are 150 fires burning in the province, 22 of which started on Tuesday by lightning.

BC Wildfire Service spokesman Kevin Skrepnek said a change in weather coming Friday has the potential to bring some relief if significant rain falls in the right regions.

The low pressure system is expected to bring cooler temperatures and a chance of rain, while inflow winds from the ocean will help clear smoke hanging over the south coast.

He said the changing weather could also bring winds and lightning that may hinder the situation, and the public is asked to continue following open fire and off-road vehicle restrictions.

The B.C. Conservation Service said it handed out 19 tickets and fines of $1,150 each over the long weekend to people who flouted a campfire ban that covers much of the province.

Chris Doyle, the deputy chief with the service, said ignorance isn’t an excuse because the campfire ban and fire danger has been very well promoted through the media, on social media and with signage.

He said it would be difficult for anyone heading into the woods not to know about the campfire ban.

The wildfire service says on average, 40 per cent of fires are caused by humans and preventing those helps direct more resources toward naturally-occurring lightning caused fires.

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