While the tourism industry will be taking a substantial hit this year, tourism will still be coming to the South Cariboo, albeit in a different form.
It’s no surprise that, behind airlines and travel companies, the tourism and hospitality industries have seen some of the most immediate and lasting impacts from COVID-19. Even as outbreaks around the world are successfully contained and countries begin to reopen, the paranoia of those countries who have not contained the virus, such as the United States, and the possibility of the second wave will be keeping many travellers home this year.
Which is exactly what Julie Gilmore, the manager of the South Cariboo Visitor Centre is counting on. Gilmore has been working within tourism at the centre for the last 14 years after a stint working in employment services in the Lower Mainland.
“Tourism for the community of 100 Mile can offer a lot of things, tourism is a big aspect of our community a lot of our retail relies on our tourism to a certain extent,” Gilmore said. “It’s not the major industry here but it’s a big part of the industry.”
Between hotels, resorts, the visitor centre and other businesses during the summer Gilmore thinks that a good one-third of the population’s jobs are reliant or supported by tourism. There are many hotels and resorts in the immediate area as well as on the ‘fishing corridors’ and in the 70 Mile House area.
“The South Cariboo is rich with resort owners, camping and RVing spots,” Gilmore added.
COVID-19 and the shutdown that followed it has already impacted the tourism industry as a whole, Gilmore said. Typically she said they rely a lot on travellers crossing the US Border or coming in from international destinations and this year she doesn’t expect that the region will be seeing too much of them, if at all. As a result, it is going to be a slower season for sure this year, Gilmore predicts.
The shutdown, which is only now being lifted in stages, also necessitated the closure of the South Cariboo Visitor Centre since March. Gilmore has been working from home since then next to a few excursions to the office to help guide people. Most of the resorts have followed suit to her knowledge and have been closed for close to three months now.
However, Gilmore plans to reopen the centre on June 1 and many of the resorts in the area have indicated to her they will be doing the same if all goes well. Over the month of May, she said that the district of 100 Mile House will be going over the rules and procedures related to operating with social distancing in mind. This will include installing sneeze guards, limiting the number of people allowed in the building, rigorous cleaning and other procedures similar to retail stores already open in the area.
These precautions will stay in place, as far as Gilmore knows, until such time as they’re told to relax them by health authorities.
As to the clientele of resorts this year, Gilmore has been attending some webinars with Destination British Columbia who are planning on launching a marketing strategy for staycations.
“They’re calling them ‘hyper-local’ and what that term to them means is that they’re going to be more families of locals,” Gilmore said. “They’re looking at maybe day trips for people in the one or two-hour area range. I haven’t looked at all of it but I’m really thinking that we’re going to see a lot of local people and regional people staying close to home.”
100 Mile House has many good locations for day-trippers and locals to enjoy, Gilmore said, from Centennial Park which is perfect for a picnic to the extensive trail systems accessible in town and the marsh for bird watching. Meanwhile, there’s a wide range of lakes and resorts available for people to visit to swim in, kayak and canoe on, fish and more, that can be utilized by everyone.
“I encourage people to get out, explore our parks, our trails while keeping in mind safety and social distancing practices,” Gilmore said. “We are a big enough region that we can be spread out so we don’t have to be in big gatherings so just go out and enjoy nature as you can.”