With wildfires raging in BC, the tourism sector is feeling the heat. The government has closed down over 60 provincial parks.
The Prince George Visitor Centre is helping residents alter their camping plans. “People are still going to camp, whether or not they can have a fire. I think people are committed to the outdoors and going on that family vacation,” says Annie Doran, the Manager of Marketing & Communications for Tourism Prince George. “Unless you have air access out, driving anywhere is a bit of a challenge because Highway 97 is closed and the alternate root is very congested. I have heard it is taking many, many hours to get from here to Vancouver for example. Maybe recommending going out west, or east or north. They can still have that great experience camping in the wilderness.”
The economies of local communities are being impacted. For the first time in 44 years, the Billy Barker Days festival in Quesnel has been cancelled. “We made the decision in the interest of our emergency responders,” says Mayor Bob Simpson. “Also because of concerns around our own air quality situation. We also didn’t want to add unnecessary traffic onto our road system.”
Barkerville relies heavily on the tourism sector. “Our two highest volume months are July and August,” says Ed Coleman, the CEO of Barkerville Historic Town & Park. “Last year we saw 65,000 customers. That generates $25 million worth of economic activity in the region and provincially.”
With the closure of the Highway 97 corridor, Barkerville has seen a 60% drop in traffic. “The only way that someone could get to us is they would have to go all the way up to Valemount, through Mcbride and over to Prince George and come down that way; if you are coming from Lower Mainland,” says Coleman.
Organizers of the Skyfest International Airshow in Quesnel are monitoring the situation closely. So far, the event is going ahead as planned. The show is set for August 4th – 6th at the Quesnel Regional Airport.
Tourism aside, the focus has been shifted to lending a hand. “The Exploration place for example has free admission if you show you are from CNC,” says Doran. “The Railway & Forestry Museum has a free event today from 11 to 3. Also, Barkverville is donate what you can to camp there.”
Tourism is expected to return in communities when its safe, but for now, the attention is on immediate need.