B.C. tourism businesses may close if international border doesn’t open soon

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While the loosening of travel restrictions in B.C. comes as a welcome announcement for some in the tourism sector, others say it won’t really make a difference until Canada’s international border opens again.

Although BC Ferries is expecting a surge in travel from residents across the province, Tourism Vancouver Island CEO Anthony Everett notes many businesses in his sector rely on visitors from further abroad to make their real money.

He points to one example of a company that offers marine tours and has been operating for 20 years.

“They had to accumulate debt in the last year to stay operating. That’s the exact kind of business, and those businesses exist throughout the province and not necessarily on the Island, and they’re all at a very tenuous place right now,” Everett says.

Remote tourism operators may be feeling the biggest hit with no international travel.

“If you’re a kayak operator in a remote part of the island, like the archipelago, one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you take clients out there, in a good year 80 to 90 per cent of your clientele would be coming from overseas,” Everett says.

Everett expects some tourism businesses will have to shut if the border stays closed.

“My heart goes out to the businesses that have battled through to this point. If we don’t have a successful summer they don’t have a successful summer, I think that there will be some closures of business.”

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Tourism Industry Association of B.C. CEO Walt Judas says although it’s an exciting day for the struggling sector, getting staffing levels back up is the number one concern right now.

“It’s so desperate in many places that employers are finding that they’re having to work seven days a week 16-18 hours a day, just to keep the businesses open. However, it’s not the same level of service that people would come to expect,” he says.

Judas says although the usual hot-spots are filling up fast, major centres like Vancouver may struggle to get customers to return.

“With the anticipation of the opening, people have been booking up their favorite places to travel in the province. So there will be pockets that will be extremely busy, but other pockets that will still be needing business.” Judas says.

“Under normal circumstances we might see a fair amount of cruise passengers, people that are here for sporting events or festivals, all the activities that take place in the city, but because that isn’t happening yet, we’re seeing a lot of empty hotel rooms in the major centres that need to be filled,” Judas says.

Ellen Walker-Matthews from the Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association echoes Judas in saying that staffing is a major issue in their region.

“People have left tourism; they found other jobs. We know that our businesses are definitely struggling to find employees,” she says, adding in the short term, the re-opening is welcome news.

“[I’m] really, really pleased that it’s happening but it isn’t something that is going to sustain us over the long term. So while there’s excitement, we need to keep going.”

Walker-Matthews is hoping that holiday makers look outside the box when choosing their next destination.

“There are lots of interesting spots in the province that don’t see that regular influx of tourists, and they need the assistance more than anyone.” Walker-Matthews says. “So, if there’s somewhere that you’ve always been thinking you’d go someday, maybe this is the time to make that someday, now.”

– With files from Ashley Burr

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