Columbia Valley sees increase in visitors

Local businesses report a boost over sunny May long weekend.

After several years of poor weather and an even poorer economy, businesses and visitor centres in the Columbia Valley noticed a marked increase in their numbers this past May long weekend.

“Long weekends are extremely important,” Radium Hot Springs Visitor Centre assistant manager Heather Perkull told The Valley Echo. “They really make or break the season for the businesses that are in town for sure.”

The Radium Hot Springs Visitor Centre had over 1,200 people come through their doors, up from 1,100 the previous year. The Columbia Valley Visitor Information Centre at the Invermere crossroads welcomed 93 groups and 199 visitors, which doesn’t include the numbers from the new satellite visitors information centre that recently opened in downtown Invermere, said manager Jackie Lysak. The Columbia Valley Visitor Centre was not open during the May long weekend last year, she noted.

Meanwhile, marketing director for High Country Properties Vacation rentals, Bjorn Billehaug, reported some of their highest numbers since 2008, which totalled 184 rental nights and 57 stays.

Billehaug attributes it mostly to the great weather the valley received over the weekend and said he noticed a particular trend of people who seemed to check the weather likely on Wednesday, since he received a flood of bookings on both the Thursday and Friday leading into the weekend.

“Long weekends are huge from our standpoint, being able to bring through that many people into our rooms,” said Billehaug, “and then all those people are going grocery shopping, or going to a restaurant, or going golfing.”

Penny Powers, owner of Columbia River Outfitters, also noted increased numbers from the last few May long weekends. Since her business is dependent on weather conditions and the May long weekend is generally the slowest of the three long weekends that take place over the summer season, she said she was very pleased to see how many people were coming through the valley.

“We were extremely happy,” Powers said. “It seemed much busier than normal.”

Traffic was especially heavy come Monday morning after an accident that resulted in a minor case of whiplash to one of the passengers caused a traffic jam stretching from Radium Hot Springs to Windermere along highway 93/95.