As we move into September and the days grow cooler and shorter, The Kimberley Bulletin reached out to Tourism Kimberley’s executive director John Hamilton to get his take on how the summer months were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to look ahead to the winter.
“It started off in March, April when everything closed down,” Hamilton said. “We were very much following,throughout summer, the Destination BC protocols; basically stay at home and dream about tourism. That went to more of the ‘explore locally’, and in phase three we started to see more opening up.”
He said that by the time the province entered phase three, July, August and the beginning of September, Kimberley’s business increased, particularly noticeable with hotel accommodations and golf courses doing extremely well.
“Many of the local businesses have been doing reasonably well,” Hamilton said. “We seem to have a huge number of Albertans again, which is normal, that came to join us for their vacation needs, but we did see that the way people vacationed was very different.”
A trend that Tourism Kimberley noticed this summer was people staying for longer stretches of time.
“We saw people coming to Kimberley for longer stays, for a week, two weeks, three weeks,” Hamilton said. “And I think that was one of our advantages, that we had the condo-based accommodations so that they could be more independent than say a hotel stay.”
He added that Kimberley’s restaurants seem to have been doing “reasonably well,” but said it’s important to remember that due to capacity reductions, they’ve had to adapt to a much different business model.
“Though they were busy, if you’re running at 50 per cent capacity, you’re not going to be doing as well as far as revenue is concerned,” he said.
In addition to running at 50 per cent capacity, there’s also the lack of having any conventions or large groups of any kind, which further damages revenue models.
“Although the hotels and everything were fairly full, I don’t think they made quite the same revenues that they would have made in a normal year,” Hamilton said. “But generally the bookings started to recover in July, August and September, and I think part of that is Kimberley is a great outdoor recreation destination and that certainly helped with the numbers.”
While Kimberley had some natural advantages to dealing with the pandemic, there were also some unique challenges.
“I think the biggest difficulty we have, being in the East Kootenays, is the B.C. government has a model for the entirety of the province, and certainly that was a challenge when most of our local business here comes two, three, four hour drives away, and much of that is from Alberta, being close to the Alberta border,” Hamilton said.
“So that was probably our biggest challenge — trying to make sure that we could still attract the Alberta market, while at the same time reassuring the public in Kimberley that we had taken all the precautions that we could to make sure that anybody visiting from anywhere would follow our safety protocols and we spent a lot of time trying to establish.”
With the hotels, and especially the campground taking advantage of the City’s code of conduct, Hamilton said it made Kimberley as safe a destination as possible for both residents and visitors.
That said, Hamilton said Tourism Kimberley is “slightly concerned” with the recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the province and what that will mean going forward into the winter months and the start of the ski season, but he remains optimistic.
“All indications are that it’s going to be a great ski season,” he said, “because we’re well positioned for rubber tire traffic, people driving, we don’t have a lot of international business here so we have a very solid market for people driving to the ski hill.
“I think, if all things being equal and that’s a big if, I think we should have a good ski season and the same thing with what was happening with the golf. I think more and people are getting into these types of sports, because they can’t play so much the team sports, they can do better in the individual type sports like golf and skiing.”
Though there is always a concern for what might happen in the coming months, based on how Kimberley has rode out the pandemic so far, the ski season should be successful.