An online tool to promote the many hidden gems along the Highway 24 corridor is close to completion.
The virtual directory, spearheaded by the Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association is underway and should be ready to launch soon, according to society chair Irene Meili.
“We are always looking for a way to stop people along the highway, to make them stay and explore as opposed to rushing through on their way to Whistler,” Meili said. “There are so many lakes, and businesses and so much to do, but you can’t see it from the highway.”
When completed, the directory will be linked to www.landofhiddenwaters.com and feature local resorts, restaurants, pubs, recreation activities and more. The project has been supported financially by the Cariboo Regional District and various regional tourism boards; a Northern Development Initiative Trust grant application has also been submitted.
Meili said she is really happy with a draft version of the directory and that it won’t be too much longer before it is available online.
She and other Interlakes business owners hope the directory will help with the “very frustrating” start to the summer season for resort owners in the region, who have been impacted by the COVID-19 travel restrictions over the past several months.
Prior to the restrictions being announced, Meili said the resort she owns, Fawn Lake Resort, was fully booked for the May long weekend. The majority of her planned visitors, from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, were forced to cancel leaving a near-empty resort this past weekend.
Even if the restrictions are lifted soon, she suspects there will be several more weeks of few bookings as travellers need time to book holidays and prepare to travel.
“We’re in the same boat as all the restaurants who don’t know if they need to hire staff and get ready,” she said. “The lack of information in the short time frame has been very frustrating. There is no opportunity to plan.”
Tools to promote travel within B.C. – like the new online directory – will be essential to keeping businesses afloat over the next few years, according to Debbie Atha, owner of Free Rein Guest Ranch.
With around 90 per cent of her clientele comprising out-of-country visitors, the past year has been a huge challenge for the all-inclusive ranch at Bridge Lake.
In Atha’s case, having a “tight pocketbook” and savings to sustain her business through the pandemic has helped her survive the past several months.
“Luckily, I’ve always been the type of girl that understood that life isn’t always a smooth trajectory,” Atha said. “When we’ve had good years, I’ve managed to put some money aside and that has served us well throughout this pandemic.”
Looking ahead, Atha anticipates that families may be hesitant to travel internationally over the next year or two, but instead take larger-scale vacations within B.C.
“It has likely opened up a new market for people staying within the province for their bigger vacations,” Atha said, noting her inquiries from B.C. residents have increased “tenfold.”
“The next 12 to 24 months is not the time for families in the province to go on those all-inclusive vacations in another country. It’s a really good time for communities to pull together, and we are a provincial community. Keeping money within the province for the foreseeable future ultimately benefits us all.”