Columbia Valley Pioneer staff

A 2022 year-end report by Valley Visitor Services (VVS) shows a return of travel despite lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In last week’s correspondence to the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), VVS reported a “very strong year” with the return of US, European and Asian visitors. 

It was noted that the Kicking Horse Canyon project prompted another two rounds of Highway 1 closures, resulting in visitor service teams fielding many questions and concerns from travellers. But hiring young people familiar with the Columbia Valley strengthened the network this season, VVS reported, noting Radium Visitor Centre was successful in hiring four summer staff in partnership with Friends of Kootenay National Park. In fact, visitors were booking longer stays and exploring more amenities and activities, according to VVS.

The VVS saw a number of challenges last year, including more competition attracting visitors, underfunding of wage costs, and difficulty hiring workers to open the Fairmont or downtown Invermere kiosks.

Last year Radium Hot Springs Visitor Centre saw 54,780 visitors, compared to 24,851 in 2020. A team of talented youth was hired to work in the centre, and at the end of August, Tourism Radium hired a new visitor centre and administration manager, and retained an additional full-time staff member for fall/winter.

At Invermere Crossroads Visitor Centre, a total of 2,547 individuals passed through in 2022, compared to 2,616 in 2020. The most common request during the summer months continues to be hiking recommendations. Overall, Columbia Valley visitor origin in 2022 were as follows: Local residents (1,204), BC (4,775), Alberta (12,835), other Canada (3,055), Washington (235), California (222), US/Mexico (2,753), Europe (2,309), Asia/Australia (179), other (64).

“Overall, 2022 saw the return of a more ‘normal’ travel year,” the VVS reported.