A tourism campaign to encourage British Columbians to vacation in the province this summer seems to have paid off for local resorts in the South Cariboo.
Several resorts say they experienced a steadily busy tourism season despite COVID-19, with many people visiting the area for the first time – and promising to come back. Ruth Lake Lodge Resort, which stays open all year, is already booking cabins for the winter and the Cariboo Bonanza Resort is lining up several reservations for the summer of 2021.
“A lot of our guests who came this year really enjoyed themselves and mentioned that they’d like to come back next year so I think we’ll still have a good year in 2021,” said France Robert, co-owner/operator of Ruth Lake Lodge Resort. “We had maybe two or three bookings from out of province, everything else was from British Columbia.”
Operators say they appreciated the local business from B.C. tourists, especially with the rough start to the year and the necessary COVID-19 protocols in place. Many resorts saw cancellations once the initial restrictions on travel were in place, but bookings improved as the summer went on, despite the added safety precautions.
At Fawn Lake Resort, the new measures included having guests fill out a questionnaire, limiting the use of public washrooms to only guests in cabins with no built-in plumbing and assigning an outhouse per camping site. As the showers weren’t widely available, owner Irene Meili said this meant campers had to take a dip in the lake. They also had to limit visitors to the resort, which made things a little less social then it usually would be.
While business wasn’t “skyrocketing,” Meili said given the conditions it’s been a good summer and believes the overall interest in the area has increased. While they lost international guests from Europe and the U.S., for instance, they gained them locally.
Some guests also expressed initial concerns the resort wouldn’t be up to their standards, she said but “I guess we proved them wrong. They came back and said it’s so nice because it’s so quiet. They found something completely new.”
“We had guests from all over B.C. from Armstrong, the Okanagan, Vancouver – all people who were new to the area and were forced to spend their summer in B.C.”
Meili added most of their regulars showed up as well. “We have a lot of repeat guests and we call them our Fawn Lake family, it’s really nice.”
Fawn Lake Resort will remain open until just after Thanksgiving, closing slightly early to build two new cabins for the resort. Meili anticipates 2021 will be similar to this year and until a vaccine emerges, they’ll be playing it safe.
At Cariboo Bonanza Resort, the cabins were “practically full” from July through to the end of September, while camping was also busy but dropped off somewhat after the labour day weekend.
Jennifer Sprecher was expected to take over management of the resort this year from her parents Bruno and Dora but didn’t due to COVID-19 shortstaffing. She said she is looking forward to closing as it has been a busy season.
“This September was better than last year’s September,” said Sprecher, who has lived and worked at the resort all her life and will run the resort with her boyfriend Marcel Wehrli. “We had very few (guests) from Alberta, but otherwise a lot from B.C. and especially in May and June – a lot of families we’ve never had here before who’ve never really been to the area and they say they want to come back.”
At the 108 Golf Resort, the RV campground was more popular than the indoor rooms this year, as people liked having their own space, said general manager Lee Hansen. Most of their guests this year were from B.C., he said, and say they plan to come back. The resort, which provides golf, horseback riding, a restaurant and an outdoor pool, was fairly quiet until the province moved into Phase Three of its opening plan.
“After that, we were actually quite busy with the golf, everybody felt safe to be out there and we gave everyone their own carts so they didn’t have to pair up,” Hansen said. “August we actually broke records for golfers and people staying at the resort.”
The resort plans to close its restaurant for the winter, but Hansen is hopeful that if fewer people travel during the winter, the season might return to normal next summer.
“It was definitely a weird season and I think being green coming in as general manager was a good learning curve,” Hansen said.
In the last three months, some 11,079 tourists visited the South Cariboo Visitor Centre.