Snowbirds unable to go south flock to Vancouver Island

Snowbirds who can’t go south of the border because of the pandemic are flocking to the Island to spend the winter months.

Vancouver Island RV parks are booked up and taking wait lists for the winter, because the closing of the U.S. border has forced snowbirds who live in their RVs year-round to change their winter plans.

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Parks that would normally operate at around half-capacity during winter are fully reserved, and some are considering ways to increase their winter capacity to accommodate the surge in demand, said Joss Penny, executive director of the B.C. Lodging and Campground Association, which represents 400 members and manages more than 20,000 camping and RV sites in the province.

“We’re certainly seeing a tremendous push from other places to come here,” Penny said.

Parks on the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and south Okanagan are also seeing an influx of snowbirds, he said.

At Malahat Mountain Meadows RV Park and Campground, the regular summer population, which usually heads to Arizona after Thanksgiving, is staying put this winter, and the RV park is seeing bookings from new guests from as far as Nova Scotia and Ontario. The park is fully reserved for winter, said spokeswoman Lana Hunter. “We’re turning people away constantly, every day.”

Fort Victoria RV Park in View Royal tends to book up for winter each year, but this year the reservations flooded in early, filling the winter spots by June, said co-owner Rosie Craig.

“We have a lot of return customers that have been staying with us for the last 10, 15 years, and now we’re starting to see a lot of new life, new snowbirds that we haven’t come across in the past, that are trying to stay on the Island rather than heading south,” Craig said.

The park has a wait list with about 75 names already, and staff are still fielding several calls a day from people looking for a place to park their home for winter.

The 37 sites at Salish Seaside RV Haven in the West Bay area of Esquimalt are mostly reserved, and any cancellations are filled almost immediately, said operations co-ordinator Jasmine Retzer.

“People are kind of scrambling,” she said.

The British Columbia Hotel Association is developing a pilot project with local tourism associations to connect snowbirds in search of accommodation with hotels that are interested in hosting them for long-term stays of a month of more, said Ingrid Jarrett, B.C. Hotel Association president and CEO.

“So that could be that they drive out in their RV, and they stay in a parking lot and you provide them with your amenities in the hotel. Or it could be that you have suites in your motel or hotel or your resort and therefore can provide them a full resort experience. And, you know, I think we’ll see some of all of that and everything in between,” Jarrett said.

The association hopes the project will help accommodate snowbirds in search of a winter home and support the hotel industry during a time when many are struggling without government support, she said.

The pilot project is still in its early stages, and Jarrett said many hotels have expressed an interest in providing snowbird packages and rates.

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