Skier questioning why Ontario travel agency won’t cancel B.C. bookings during pandemic

A Kelowna, B.C., man is questioning why the ski trip he booked with several friends in Ontario to Sun Peaks Resort is being allowed to go ahead as pandemic numbers soar in other provinces and with the B.C. government advising that people avoid all non-essential travel into and within the province.

Mark Wenn, a recent Ontario transplant to B.C., said for the past five years he and his wife have booked a ski holiday with a group of friends from Ontario to a different ski resort each year.

Last fall, the group chose Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops for its March 2021 trip and made the booking with SkiCan, a travel agency in Ontario, Wenn said.

Fast forward to 2021, with the situation with COVID-19 drastically changed since last September.

Sun Peaks advises on its website that guests should “follow government recommendations and avoid non-essential travel within B.C. at this time.”

This month, Wenn reached out to the travel agency to see if he could cancel the booking.

“With the travel restrictions and what is happening in Ontario with all the ski hills being shut down and trying to do the right thing, obviously, we don’t want to travel to Sun Peaks. We want to remain in our bubble,” he said.

Wenn found out from the travel agent the trip was still going ahead as planned, and he and his wife would lose their deposits of $500 each, if they backed out, he said.

More concerning than losing the deposit, Wenn said, is the issue of the travel agency sending people from Ontario to B.C.

“It should be shut down,” he said. “The message should be that there is no inter-provincial travel and there is no non-essential travel.”

The B.C. government strongly discourages non-essential travel both inter-provincially and from one region to another within the province.

Last week, Premier John Horgan said the government was getting legal advice to determine whether an inter-provincial travel ban would be doable or even constitutional.

‘It just doesn’t make sense’

Wenn said he thinks travel agencies and ski resorts have a moral duty to ensure their clients abide by the government’s directives not to travel for a ski vacation at this time.

“But yet, I can join a ski group … leaving from Toronto with 20 other people and be welcomed at Sun Peaks in March? It just does not make sense,” he said.

Wenn said about half of his Ontario friends have also decided they won’t be going on the ski holiday to B.C.

The owner of SkiCan, Karen Nasmith, told CBC news her company warned its customers about the risks of booking a holiday during the pandemic and recommended they purchase travel insurance.

She defended withholding deposits as a way to defray the cost of the work her staff does when arranging ski holidays.

Nasmith said after bookings are made, the tickets belong to the clients and it is up to each individual whether they still choose to travel or not. 

‘We rely on people to make the right decision’

Sun Peaks resort chief marketing officer Aidan Kelly said the company is advising people to follow provincial health guidelines, including avoiding non-essential travel — a message Sun Peaks displays prominently on its website.

“At the end of the day, we rely on people to make the right decision based on their own circumstances,” he said.

Sun Peaks has not taken the measures that Kelowna’s Big White Resort has to keep people off the ski hill by proactively cancelling all out-of-region overnight bookings.

“People have been cancelling on their own,” Kelly said, adding he estimates 95 per cent of out-of-region guests have decided to follow the travel restriction and cancel or postpone their ski trips.

With files from CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops and Jenifer Norwell

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