City of Fernie welcome sign. (File photo)

Tourism Fernie reflects on new public health orders and the impact on tourism

Jikke Gyorki said it was important that everyone batten down the hatches to ensure a safe and successful Christmas season for tourism

With a new provincial government focus on limiting non-essential travel within British Columbia to fight the surging second wave of COVID-19 cases, tourism operators face a second round of falling business and fewer numbers.

Executive director of Tourism Fernie, Jikke Gyorki said that in order to ensure the sector in the valley got a good winter season, it was good the government was looking to limit travel now.

“For the industry, it’s better now to nip it in the butt…and get it under control so we can hopefully have a safe and successful Christmas season,” she said.

Gyorki explained that while November was the quietest month for tourism, “the four months of December, January, February and March are the highest yield revenue months for tourism in the year, so obviously the winter season is very important in the community.”

“The question is whether we’re successful in the next two to four weeks (in tackling COVID-19) because after four weeks we’re hitting Christmas eve.”

The first wave, said Gyorki, had also hit during a quiet time of year, allowing the sector to weather it reasonably well.

With a second wave surging, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Thursday afternoon (Nov. 19) that there would be a private gathering ban across the province, and masks were now mandatory in all indoor public spaces.

With no explicit travel ban but rather a provincial state-at-home order, Gyorki said it meant that for the Elk Valley, the tourism industry could at least continue on “as long as everybody plays by the rules. It’s now our duty to ensure that that messaging is getting out there.”

For Tourism Fernie’s part, Gyorki said they would be looking to coordinate messaging with the Fernie Chamber of Commerce and the City of Fernie on the importance of sticking to the basics: masks, social distancing, sanitizing and staying home when feeling ill.

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce launched its own campaign recently to back up local businesses in enforcing expectations that customers wear masks – something which both Tourism Fernie and the City of Fernie have said they support.

“We want to keep everyone safe,” said Gyorki. “As was evident in the early days of the pandemic, the sooner we work together to nip it in the butt and flatten the curve, the sooner we can get back to a little bit of normalcy.”

The goal, said Gyorki, was ensuring that numbers were low enough so that the government would lift its new restrictions before Christmas.

“I think we all need to just batten down the hatches and follow protocols and be successful in seeing numbers go down.”

The issue of marketing is a big one, with Tourism Fernie dedicated to promoting Fernie as a tourism destination, and many businesses here relying on out-of-valley visitors to survive.

For now, Tourism Fernie has paused all of its digital marketing, with what marketing there is already out there being for the winter season to come.

“None of the marketing that’s out there is asking people to come this weekend or anything like that,” said Gyorki. “It’s still a sensitive time…and we have to navigate that.”

Looking ahead, Gyorki said she was optimistic for the local industry, given how well it had weathered the first wave. “The tourism sector has been very successful … obviously we want to continue this success rate and follow (provincial health) orders.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: B.C. extends private gathering ban province-wide
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