– Glenn Mandziuk is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Region. He can be reached at ceo@totabc.com.

THOMPSON / OKANAGAN – It has been an incredibly challenging summer throughout our beautiful Province of BC as residents and visitors alike have had to leave their communities as a result extreme wildfire conditions.

Some have been on notice for days or weeks while others have had only moments to pack up and leave. Either way all share the uncertainty that has lead to sleepless nights and frightening days while they wait for what may come next.

The sheer force of Mother Nature has been immense and unpredictable; it has ravaged the land and anything in its way. Through all this, countless men and women have continued to work tirelessly at the unenviable task of bringing under control something that seems insurmountable; the wins are small, take much time, effort and patience; but unquestionably our forest fighters will get the BC, as well as all Canadians, are with everyone affected.

On a different scale, it is also a very difficult time for our tourism industry stakeholders that are in communities not directly affected by wildfires but who are definitely seeing the negative impact of media reporting and messaging that paints the entire province with an air of devastation.

Starting with a grave misunderstanding of the words “Province-Wide State of Emergency” and continuing with phraseology such as “BC is Burning” or “Smokey Skies and Poor Air Quality” the result is unprecedented with cancellations in numerous locations that are otherwise unaffected parts of our province and region.

Much of our tourism community is comprised of entrepreneurs and small business owners that realize the major share of their revenues during the busy summer season. It is to be sure a very fragile economy and revenues lost as a result of fire activity may be something many of these businesses may never come back from.

This challenge is also faced by tourism operators in areas not directly impacted by fires where there have been crippling business losses largely due to inaccurate media messaging and reporting.

The fire season has hit parts of the province hard, however, there is less than 1 per cent of the entire province of British Columbia that is actually experiencing wildfires.

Air quality in those affected areas is poor but in much of the province continues to be at 2 – 3 on a scale of 10, something that is both normal and considered low risk. The skies are blue and the weather is what our visitors usually wish for, but you will be hard pressed to hear that in most television or radio broadcasts.

Making sure that residents and visitors are informed and safe is paramount to be sure, but sensationalizing stories and inaccurate reporting hurts everyone. Without question, news stories in communities of Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Williams Lake, Princeton and the devastation in Lake Country and the Kootenays is terrible and all of those folks as well as their livestock will need our support and assistance for weeks and months to come.

But there is another terrible story brewing around the province and it is one we also must all work together to control and combat…… the victims of this year’s wildfires span every region.