Vancouver tour operators navigate the smoky haze

Aug 11 2017, 5:25 am

If the wildfire smoke engulfing Vancouver for the past week begins to clear as forecast, residents and tourists will soon be able to breathe easier in our beautiful city.

Of course, more than a hundred wildfires continue to burn in the Interior and thousands of people remain evacuated, in the second most destructive wildfire season on record.

The smoke sent down to the coast may not have been life-threatening, but it did bring its own challenges, not least for tourism operators navigating the smoky haze.

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Alasdair Butcher, walking tour director with the Tour Guys, told Daily Hive the smoke has had a big physical impact on his tour guides.

“After doing several hours of walking tours per day, our throats and eyes are irritated and fatigue seems to set in quicker,” said Butcher.

“It’s obviously impacted our tours, particularly the Downtown and Waterfront tour which usually culminates with views out over the North Shore Mountains and Burrard Inlet.”

Butcher says he hasn’t seen any drop in bookings, but his guests aren’t sure what to do next, especially if they planned on going to the Okanagan, the Rockies, or Whistler.

“If there is any silver lining, it makes us dig a little deeper when it comes to our content,” said Butcher.

“That being said, I’ll be very happy when the fires are out and the blue skies are back.”

Mountain views shrouded in smoke

Vancouver in the smoky haze on August 9, 2017 (Jenni Sheppard/Daily Hive)

Vancouver in the smoky haze on August 9, 2017 (Jenni Sheppard/Daily Hive)

It’s not just walking tours being affected by the wildfire smoke blowing in from the Interior. Bike tours have felt the impact too, says Jeremy Catherall of Vancouver Bike Tours.

“The mountain views are one of features that make Vancouver such a spectacular city to visit,” said Catherall. “Having them shrouded in smoke is unfortunate.”

However, he said, Vancouver has lots more to offer visitors than just the mountains, and utmost in his mind are those suffering in the Interior.

“Our thoughts are with the communities that have been devastated by this year’s fires and all the firefighters currently working to get the blazes under control,” he said.

‘We’re lucky there are no active fires here’

Surprisingly, none of the city bike tours have seen a drop in bookings. Josh Bloomfield with Cycle City Tours even said his rentals and tours were busier than ever.

That’s not the case for Into The Wild though, says Owner and Operator Paul Taplin, who usually runs outdoor adventure tours by bike around the Lower Mainland.

Taplin said bookings have slowed down, and he has had to re-route a tour of Lynn Canyon and Pitt Meadows to the Seawall and Granville Island.

“We are working hard to ensure that visitors to Vancouver are still able to experience the wonderful city and surrounding areas despite the smoke,” said Taplin.

“We try to reassure our customers that while the smoke has been challenging, we are lucky that there are currently no active fires affecting our tour routes.”

Predictably, also badly affected by the smoke is the Vancouver Lookout, which reports a 10% drop in visitors compared to the same time last year.

Some tourist spots doing better

Granville Island Public Market on May 10, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada (Julien Hautcoeur/Shutterstock)

Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, Canada (Julien Hautcoeur/Shutterstock)

While some tour operators have been impacted by the haze, others seem to be riding it out – or even riding high.

Amber Sessions, Manager of Communications for Tourism Vancouver, said they haven’t seen a rush of cancellations.

We heard the same from Sky Helicopters, the Vancouver Parks Board, the Museum of Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, Playland at the PNE, Prince of Whales and BC Grand Tours.

Granville Island, VanDusen Botanical Garden, Bloedel Conservatory, and the Museum of Anthropology told us their visitor numbers are actually up.

“Poor weather will often drive more of the tourists who are already in town to visit MOA,” said marketing and communications manager Rob Maguire.

‘Challenging start’ to August

Further north, the challenge has been greater; Whistler’s Red Bull 400 race was cancelled due to the high risk air quality.

At the Sea To Sky Gondola, Kirby Brown, General Manager, said its been a “challenging start” to August, but visitors are making the best of it.

“Although the smoke is affecting the views and more strenuous activities, guests are enjoying more laid back options,” he said.

Brown said these include walks in the forest, axe throwing, and Talking Trees Tours, as well as their restaurant at the summit.

“We would never want to complain about smoke when others in the province are facing fire,” he said.

“While the smoke is having an impact on our business, we manage whatever situation Mother Nature presents us with.”

‘BC is still open for business’

Jenny Manzer, with Destination BC, said the Crown corporation has received anecdotal reports of cancellations.

“Unfortunately some tourism businesses in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast have had to close altogether,” she said.

However, Manzer said, they won’t have statistical data until the fall, and the corporation is now focusing on keeping people informed.

“We are currently working closely with our community, regional, and overseas partners, and government entities to ensure visitors and business owners have accurate and up-to-date information,” said Manzer.

“We continue to market those areas of the province that are not impacted by these wildfires, to ensure prospective visitors understand that much of BC is still open for business.”

To find more information about travelling in British Columbia and local air quality, check the Know If You Go page at Destination BC.

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Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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