Smoke

Georgia Turner, manager of Wibit, Kelowna’s inflatable water park, stands in front of the park Tuesday afternoon. Many kids were playing on the park’s equipment Tuesday, the least smoky day so far this week. However, with smoky skies and cooler temperatures, business has been slow during the past couple of weeks, says owner Rylie Gallagher.

Smoky skies and cooler temperatures are having a significant impact on at least one Okanagan business that relies on warm, sunny days to stay afloat.

Business has been slow at Wibit, Kelowna’s downtown inflatable water park, said owner Rylie Gallagher.

“The largest thing for us is with the smoke coming in is it really cools our days off, so we don’t see as many people at the beach,” he said. “The smoke has really cooled off what would have been some really good days, and has kept some families inside.”

A cold front expected this weekend, along with forecast showers, is not good news for Wibit, which has less than two weeks left in its season.

“This is typically a very busy time of year for us,” said Gallagher. “August generally closes quite strong, but we have seen a large decline in business, even from last year over the last two weeks.”

Wibit saw a similar decline in business last year with smoke then, so this year was not a total surprise, said Gallagher.

“We try to plan for it financially,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we projected our season with that in mind.”

Wibit will remain open in Kelowna and Peachland until Sept. 3, and until Sept. 4 in Penticton.

“Hopefully we can have a good rest of the season,” said Gallagher.

Smoke affecting tourism is something Tourism Kelowna CEO Lisanne Ballantyne said she has been hearing from many local businesses.

When smoke began to settle into the valley, Tourism Kelowna contacted 90 local hotels and bed and breakfasts to find out how they were being impacted.

“What we’re hearing is the smoke is definitely affecting tourism business, and that worries us,” said Ballantyne.

At least three-quarters of the local hotels reported they had at least one cancelation due to smoke, while more than half said guests shortened their stay once they arrived and saw the smoke.

“Those were numbers that told us we were definitely going to be losing revenue in those important months of July and August,” said Ballantyne.

Despite the slower summer, Ballantyne said Kelowna saw a similar pattern last year and was able to bounce back in the fall.

“Last year at this time, just like now, the first six months of the year were record-setting occupancy levels for Kelowna, then July and August we had some softening,” she said. “Then September and the rest of fall rebounded so well last year that we actually finished off the year doing as well, if not better, than previous years.”

Tourism Kelowna is gearing its marketing campaigns toward promoting fall vacations and fall conferences.

“I think what we’re starting to see here is the need . . . for Kelowna and the whole region to start diversifying,” said Ballantyne. “Our push is going to be on becoming a four-season destination so . . . the occasional weather pattern doesn’t make or break us.”