Coronavirus outbreak in China hurting northern B.C. festival attendance, says organizer

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The organizer of a festival in northern British Columbia is concerned attendance will be down after marketing the event extensively in China before the coronavirus outbreak 

The Northern Lights Festival, now in its second year, takes place from March 12 to March 21 in Fort Nelson, B.C., and features winter activities such as dog sled rides, hot spring excursions and northern lights viewing, as well as numerous concerts and cultural experiences.

Organizer Cory Howden said a lot of resources were put toward attracting visitors from China and Hong Kong to the festival and now the coronavirus and subsequent international travel restrictions mean those efforts may have been in vain this year.

“All of the applicants that applied for visas to come to the festival so far have been denied coming out of China,” said Howden on Daybreak North Tuesday. “It’s forced us to refocus our marketing efforts.”

A massive snowman featured at last year’s Northen Lights Festival. (Northern Lights Festival/Facebook)

And this is not the first time events in China have impacted attendance. Howden said a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China over the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver also caused people from China to cancel trips to the festival last year.

But Howden wants to build up tourism in the community, which is primarily dependent on the oil and gas industry and is not giving up. He said it’s been a rocky road marketing to China and Hong Kong for the last two years but hopefully those efforts will pay off in the long run.

Attendees at the Northern Lights Festival can enjoy historical sled dog rides during the 10 days of festivities. (Facebook/Northern Lights Festival)

“When a community relies solely on one industry, it is subject to ups and downs,” he said.

“The tourism and the beauty we have in the North is also something that can help create a baseline and help create a balance, so when other things go up and down hopefully, it doesn’t happen all at the same time,” added Howden.

In the meantime, Howden and the festival team have shifted their marketing focus this year to Europe and the United States. And there has already been proven success attracting guests from south of the border.

Howden said last year there were two visitors from Texas who went home and told their friends about the festival. This year, Howden said, 54 Texans will be making the trip up north. 

 


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