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Everyone wants to be in Kelowna this summer

Despite all the talk you may hear about shoulder-season, off-season, off-peak and year-round, summer is still very much king when it comes to tourism in Kelowna.

"Kelowna's beauty and excellent summer weather means everyone wants to be in Kelowna in the summer," said Kelly Watt, who is starting her second term as chair of the Tourism Kelowna board of directors.

"They want a piece of the lake and the beaches and the golf and wine and everything else."

As such, Watt is hoping for a typical summer of tourism in Kelowna, uninterrupted by heat domes, wildfires, rockslides or travel bans.

<who>Photo credit: Tourism Kelowna</who>Kelly Watt of Sandman Hotels is back for a second term as chair of the Tourism Kelowna board of directors.

Those four tourism plagues did affect Kelowna in 2021 and last summer.

While last summer's wildfires wreaked havoc in the city for a couple of weeks, overall the tourism industry was resilient and maintained its status as one of the biggest economic engines attracting 2.2 million visitors in 2023 and accounting for a $2.4 billion annual economic impact.

"The hope and expectation is obviously to maintain and surpass that visitor count and economic impact with a good summer and no wildfires," said Watt.

"We just want everyone to be able to come to our beautiful valley."

<who>Photo credit: Tourism Kelowna</who>2.2 million visitors come to Kelowna every year and spur a $2.4 billion economic impact annually.

Okanagan wine, which is also a big tourist draw, has had its challenges recently, too, with a cold snap in 2022 resulting in half the wine there would regularly be of the 2023 vintage and another cold snap in January threatening to wipe out the 2024 vintage.

"We don't want tourists to be scared off by that news, either," said Watt.

There's still plenty of wine and wineries to visit and the summer will be ideal, as long as there are no wildfires.

<who>Photo credits: Tourism Kelowna</who>Beaches (and the hot summer weather to go with them) are one of the top reasons tourists come to Kelowna.

The recent upheavals have changed the way tourists travel to the Okanagan.

Since most of them come from elsewhere in BC and Alberta and drive here, they can make plans last-minute to visit Kelowna based on the weather and current conditions.

As such, it's not unusual for tourists to make a hotel reservation on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the weekend they arrive.

And, potential visitors are just as likely to cancel with only a day or two notice if the weather sucks or wildfire smoke fills the air.

<who>Photo credit: Tourism Kelowna</who>Golf is also a top draw.

On top of this, inflation, a sluggish economy and a labour shortage means the cost of doing business is up and it's hard to be fully staffed for tourism business.

On the other side of the coin, tourists may still be travelling, but also cutting back on things like expensive hotel, pricey meals out and costly activities.

"We have to have a positive outlook and keep our fingers crossed," said Watt.

While we're at the precipice of summer and the busy tourism season, Watt said Tourism Kelowna is also always committed to year-round tourism development.

"We have a strategic plan to attract people in the off-season and definitely strides have been made in that respect," explained Watt.

"We're lucky that Big White (ski resort) has helped us attract people in the winter and we have two big off-season events coming here" (Country Music Week and the Canadian Country Music Awards in September 2025 and the Brier Canadian mens' curling championships Feb. 28-March 9, 2025).

Watt's position with Tourism Kelowna is a volunteer role to utilize her tourism expertise on a governance board.

Watt is the Kelowna-based director of sustainability projects for all 65 of the Sandman Hotels in Canada, the US and the UK.

She first moved to Kelowna 18 years ago to manage the Sandman Kelowna before becoming a regional director of the seven Sandmans in the Interior.

Watt was elected the Tourism Kelowna board of directors by members of the group and then elected chair afterward by the 2024-25 board.

Here's a full list of the board:

Executive Committee

  • Chair: Kelly Watt, Sandman Hotels

  • Vice-chair: Edan Fay, The Royal Kelowna

  • Past-chair: Thom Killingsworth, Kelowna Yacht Club

  • Treasurer: Natalie Corbett, Accent Inns & Hotel Zed

  • Secretary: Tara Gerald, Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort


  • Audrey Surrao, RauDZ Creative Concepts

  • Clee Varon, Iconic Wines of BC

  • Dale Sivucha, Coast Capri Hotel

  • Daniel Ruel, PR Hotels

  • Jason Guyitt, Argus Hotels

  • Jillian Haller, Kelowna Concierge

  • Kimberly Hundertmark, Okanagan Wine Festivals Society

  • Michael J. Ballingall, Big White Ski Resort

  • Shauna Wilton, Andrew Peller Ltd.

Appointed directors:

  • Councillor Ron Cannan, City of Kelowna

  • Councillor Tricia Brett, District of Lake Country

  • Jenny Money, Westbank First Nation

  • Sam Samaddar, Kelowna International Airport

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