B.C. providing $50M to help tourism sector recover from COVID hit

Some of B.C.'s biggest tourist attractions getting a financial boost from the province - up to a million a piece for dozens of organizations. Liza Yuzda reports many are relieved but for some it's still not nearly enough.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The province has earmarked $50 million as a lifeline for B.C.’s popular tourist attractions, which have been struggling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attractions in urban centres that see 75,000 or more visitors per year, such as Science World in Vancouver and the Butchart Gardens in the Victoria area are eligible for up to $1 million. There are about 30 landmarks that fit in this category.

In rural areas, there are about 40 attractions that receive at least 15,000 visitors annually, which would qualify for up to $500,000.

Tour bus operators that serve 30,000 or more passengers in a year can also receive up to $500,000.

“This is a grant, not a loan,” Premier John Horgan said. “That means it could be used for a number of things to offset fixed costs like payroll, rent, utilities, and other costs that have been accrued over the past number of months.”

Jonathan Burke, chair of the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, was onhand for the Tuesday announcement. He says business has plummeted throughout the pandemic.

“We had to layoff over half of our employees at the beginning of COVID-19. We’ve been slowly drawing people back through wage supports and other programs,” he said.

“In 2019, we had almost 143,000 people move through the gates of the H.R. Macmillan Space Center. That went to 33,000 in 2020, almost a 76 per cent decline,” Burke said, adding their revenues followed suit.

“We went from almost $1.2 million in revenues to $270,000 in revenues from gate admissions, a 78 per cent decline in revenue,” Burke said.

With public health restrictions, the number of students visiting the space centre for field trips also dropped almost 80 per cent, he added.

Burke says the facility is now trying to focus on preparing for when things open up again.

For the second year in a row, the Fair at the PNE has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PNE organizers have asked for $8 million in help to ensure its survival. When asked if there are options for more funding beyond this $1 million, Horgan would not make any promises.

“When the PNE applies for this program, we’ll have a better understanding of the challenges that they face and we’ll work with stakeholders … who have a vested interest in the success of Playland and the PNE to make sure that it can go forward,” he said.

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Tourism Minister Melanie Mark notes they are expecting federal funding to be announced and they will be “advocating that B.C. gets its share for events and festivals.”

Applications for the provincial grants are being accepted until June 7. The money is expected to be doled out by July.

With files from John Ackermann and Liza Yuzda

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