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B.C. tourism ‘open for business’ despite wildfires, says Destination BC

Wildfire headlines leads to cancellations for tourism operators

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With wildfires raging and making headlines near and far, British Columbia's tourism industry wants to reassure potential visitors to the province that all is not lost this summer.

"While our province is currently under a state of emergency to ensure that the impacted areas get everything they need in terms of support, the rest of the province is very much open for business in terms of travel and tourism," said Maya Lange, vice president of global marketing at Destination BC, in a July 14 conference call.

"Safety is our top priority and we're encouraging in-province visitors and those with travel plans to check our website for various planning and emergency resources available."

While several tourism operations have been impacted by the fires - most notably in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region - other operators are seeing negative effects from the publicity of the fires alone.

"Tourism is an important economic driver in this province and unfortunately some of our region and communities that are hundreds of kilometres away from impacted areas have reported cancellations... because the information that they're receiving leads them to believe that B.C. is burning," Lange said.

"This is absolutely not the case. We want to ensure that people can travel safely in B.C., and we've been working closely with tourism businesses, associations, travel trade, tour operators across the province and across Canada and overseas to ensure that we provide accurate and up to date information so travellers can make their decisions."

The advice for visitors is to "know before you go," Lange added, by checking with local operators, www.destinationbc.ca and www.drivebc.ca.

Early estimates in the Cariboo Chicotin region have about 147 tourism businesses currently evacuated, said Amy Thacker, CEO of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association.

"We do not have an estimate in terms of business lost or revenue lost," Thacker said. "It is too early to tell now, but we are working with our provincial government to provide updates as we receive confirmations from our stakeholders."

That said, Thacker noted that several areas in the region, like Lillooet or the Bridge River Valley, continue to have uninterrupted access from the Lower Mainland.

"We realize that some travellers had planned to visit areas in our impacted zones and we understand the disappointment," she said.

"We are inviting people back to visit these areas this fall or next year because many are truly bucket-list destinations."

Questions about the fires have been asked at Tourism Whistler (TW) as well, said communications specialist Marion Young.

"The questions are mainly around road closures and air quality, and we are providing guests with the latest information, reassuring them that the fires are not burning near Whistler," Young said, adding that TW has added a notice for visitors on its website: www.whistler.com/getting-here/road/conditions.

Road closures in the Interior have posed a challenge for some visitors coming to or through Whistler, Young added.

"We have had a couple of cancellations at whistler.com from guests who were not able to get to Whistler because of the road closures. We are working closely with our partners to meet our guests' needs," she said.

"We did have one group that chose to move their family reunion to Whistler, after road closures meant they couldn't get to their original destination."

Though the true impact of the fires won't be known for some time, Young said August room nights are currently pacing ahead of last year, and TW expects total room nights for the summer to finish in line with 2016.

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