Resorts in the Canim Lake area are slow to recover following the worry and uncertainty caused by wildfires in the area last month.
Several resorts in the area lost the majority of their July reservations, as the wildfire at the south end of the lake prompted evacuation alerts and orders around the region.
Situated just below the hillside where the Canim Lake fire ignited, South Point Resort was put on evacuation order for 10 days starting July 14, but owner Leanne Sallenback said they lost nearly the entire month of July due to the precarious circumstances.
“We definitely lost all of July, and August is still at about 50 per cent,” Sallenback said. “We gave people the option to cancel by Aug. 1 and a lot of people did cancel – people who are older or they have asthma and they don’t want to be near the smoke at all.”
The fires had a similar effect on bookings over at Ruth Lake Lodge, where the resort was on evacuation alert for much of July and saw a “significant impact” on their summer season.
“A very high percentage of guests cancelled, predominantly in July,” owner France Robert said. “Although our resort was never affected by any of the fires, and we can count on one hand the number of smoky days we had, guests were being encouraged not to travel to the Cariboo.”
With the summer months accounting for around 70 per cent of their annual revenue, Robert said they are now shifting into promoting the shoulder and winter seasons to would-be guests in the hopes they can recoup some of their losses.
Robert said she believes that media coverage and information from government officials warning people to stay away from the area contributed to deterring guests from coming.
She said it was hard to do damage control even though they were really unaffected.
“The people who were very vocal about telling people to stay home, they probably don’t consider that it affects our ability to stay in business,” she said.
The owners of Reynolds Resort on the north side of Canim Lake agree that better communication and education for the public are needed to help guests accurately weigh the risks of visiting during such an event.
Misinformation circulating around the community, as well as media coverage that implied “the whole place is on fire and burning down” made for a difficult first summer for the new owners.
“We were in absolutely no fire danger whatsoever,” they said. “But when I tried to communicate that to my guests, they think I’m trying to talk them into coming to a dangerous place. I think getting the proper information out to the public, as opposed to just showing pictures of the fire tornadoes, that’s something that would go a long way.”
Looking forward, resort owners are now hoping for a busy fall season. Prior to the wildfires affecting their bookings, months of COVID-19 travel restrictions also negatively impacted the local tourism industry.
“It’s been a rough couple of years, and I’m definitely nervous that COVID restrictions could come back into play,” Sallenback said. “The tourism industry as a whole, being hit with rising insurance costs, COVID, and now this – it’s making things very difficult for all of us.”
Despite the rough year and partially lost summer, Robert said she is focusing her energy on promoting the Cariboo as a great place to visit outside the peak summer months.
“If we focus on what’s lost then you can’t see the light and focus on the positive,” she said. “We are hardly the only people who have had a difficult year. We still got to enjoy an amazing summer at the lake and that will help keep us in a forward momentum, and focus on what the fall and winter are going to be like.”