Highway bypass proves a benefit to tourism activity in Oyama area

A highway bypass that initially drained traffic and business from Oyama is now credited for a rebound in tourism activity.

Business at the Gatzke Orchard plunged by 90 per cent immediately after a new four-lane section of Highway 97 opened in August 2013. But visitor headcounts have since recovered steadily, owner Alan Gatzke says.

“We’re probably back to about 80 per cent of where we were,” Gatzke said Thursday.

A key reason, Gatzke believes, is the highway bypass has helped turn Oyama into more of a quiet and scenic destination increasingly discovered by tourists passing through the Okanagan.

He and centre manager Deb Leroux will present a report to town council next week showing that visitors at Lake Country’s three information centres has held relatively steady over the past year.

An estimated 15,276 people stopped by one of the three centres. Gatzke says that’s within 1,000 or so from last year.

Many visitor information centres elsewhere have reported sharp declines in the number of people stopping by for information on hotels, restaurants, and local attractions.

Tourism Kelowna, for example, is planning a move from a highway location to a waterfront one because o an ongoing drop in people calling at the current site. The popularity of GPS systems to find attractions and advance online bookings at hotels is said to lessen the need of people to visit traditional highway-based information centres.

A downtown location is preferable, Tourism Kelowna says, because it’s an area of high pedestrian traffic, where visitors can be easily informed about sights and attractions they may not otherwise discover.

In Lake Country, the busiest visitor centre is the one located near a popular beach in Oyama. “We’re reaching people who are already on their feet, walking around and enjoying the lake and the views,” Gatzke said.

The Oyama centre is also the one referenced on highway signs. A smaller visitor kiosk is located near a popular kangaroo farm in Winfield, and the third travels around providing information at special community events.

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