‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ B.C.’s tourism industry appreciates restart roadmap

“By now we had hoped we’d be fully operational.” B.C. is extending its current travel restrictions until at least June 15th. As Ashley Burr explains, it’s delaying the start of what industry experts hope to be a busy summer season.

VICTORICA (NEWS 1130) — Step One of B.C.’s reopening plan still restricts non-essential travel between health zones, so if you’re itching to get away, you’ll have to practice patience for a little while longer.

British Columbians can only travel within their zones until June 15, which is when recreational travel will be permitted anywhere in the province.

Senior Vice President of the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Ellen Walker Matthews, says even though we’re already hitting the traditional peak travel season, she’s grateful the industry now has a roadmap.

“We would have loved to be open, but I think there’s a plan. I think more than anything else, what we’ve been asking for is what are the plans? What are the benchmarks? Now we have them.”

Walt Judas with the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. adds this timeline allows them to plan — barring any unforeseen circumstances.

“I think by now, we had all hoped that we would be fully operational and that travel would be taking place throughout the province, not only within British Columbia, but people coming from other parts of Canada and internationally. We’ve been delayed on that front, for obvious reasons for several months. So it’s not necessarily unexpected, at least … [a restart plan] can’t happen soon enough.”

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Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association, agrees that the announcement gives hope to the industry, and allows them to at least start planning for reopening.

“There’s a lot of work,” she says.

“We need to do training, hiring, safety plans. [There’s] an enormous amount of expense when we look at deep cleaning all the rooms, retraining our staff really looking at those protocols, and what this restart plan looks like. So from a business perspective, we can start looking for revenue.”

Earlier this month the province earmarked $50 million as a lifeline for B.C.’s popular tourist attractions, which have been struggling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There has been a very welcome and needed relief for large attractions and transportation companies that support them. They are a critical part of our ecosystem and our tourism community,” Jarrett says.

However, Jarrett adds there is will an “enormous burden and hardship” when it comes to fixed costs already incurred by other smaller or newer businesses.

“We’re thrilled that the government was able to come up with that relief factor. But when we take a look at where the gaps are, they’re the same gaps that we identified a year ago. So seasonal businesses, businesses with foreign ownership, businesses that are new businesses that opened at the beginning of 2020, businesses potentially that were closed for renovation in 2019. None of those businesses are eligible for any relief whatsoever.”

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During Tuesday’s announcement, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry encouraged people in the province to book a week-long trip with friends in June.

Walker Matthews agrees, adding, “Don’t just go for a weekend, go for a week and really try and support those businesses so that when we get through this next week period, you’re hopefully we can keep them alive.”

Because of the challenging year, the hospitality sector has faced, Walker Matthews says many people have left the industry, so businesses are having to find different ways of delivering services.

“So definitely we’ll be trying to encourage people to get back in the industry, or people that have never been in the industry that think they’d like to change and now might be the great time to do it. So we’d love to see more people join us.”

However, Jarrett says the volume of people the industry will need to rehire is concerning, and there may be a lack of experienced workers available.

“The service industry is a skill unto itself,” she says. “There’s many human skills, life skills, expertise around food and wine or service excellence, or cleaning or maintenance,” she says.

“There’s a dire concern around a lack of a labour force, and a skilled labour force it that.”

Despite the difficult year and a half, Walker Matthews adds, “It feels like there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I would suspect that phones are already ringing,” Judas says.


– With files from Tamara Slobogean and Denise Wong

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