B.C. tourism businesses are preparing for the easing of COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions within the province, and many fear they won’t be able to stay viable until it happens.
Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry indicated this week there could be movement by the end of June, if coronavirus infection rates remain low.
“We are watching very carefully now because as things are opening up we may start to see cases increase,” Henry said May 27. “If we can do that in a slow and measured way, then by the middle of June we should absolutely be able to move out a little bit more.”
Horgan was cautious about the beginning of phase three of the B.C. government’s restart plan, which includes camping, hotels and theatres. The official timeline is for June to September, based on COVID-19 transmission rates.
“We need to see how phase two goes before we start contemplating phase three,” Horgan said May 27. “But our focus is on public health, making sure people are safe. We want to get the economy back to a place where people can be comfortable going to work, going to shop, going to visit destinations around B.C., but we are not certainly at stage three yet, we are expecting that to be sometime later into the middle of June.”
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) May 29, 2020
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the province needs more detailed information about the virus risk, marketing help and assistance to businesses that have lost most of their revenue.
“Our tourism industry is in big trouble this summer, and there will be a bit of a rebound in domestic tourism but an awful lot of people are going to be worried and staying home, so it would be helpful to have an understanding of the risk by region so that people think they can go into the quieter corners of BC and have a great time, and be safe while they do so,” Wilkinson said in an interview.
“It would be helpful to have advice from the provincial health officer about the kinds of things we should be engaged in, like being out on a houseboat perhaps, or hiking in the back country as things that are safe, and to be told things we should be avoiding in more specific detail than we’ve got right now.”
Industry organizations have painted a bleak picture of the outlook for 2020. In a joint statement for Tourism Week, the B.C. Hotel Association the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. and the Alliance of Beverage Licensees called for a moratorium on evictions for commercial tenant and extension of the federal government’s commercial rent assistance and wage subsidy programs.
“With over 400 hotels closed, and more than 62,000 employees laid off in the province, many businesses, some of which rely completely on the summer season, are on the brink of insolvency,” said Ingrid Jarrett, president of the B.C. Hotel Association.
Mark von Schellwitz, vice president of Restaurants Canada, said 70 per cent of Western Canada members don’t know if they will have enough funds to cover vendors, rent and reopening costs over the next three months.
Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Association of B.C., agreed. “Measures such as the wage subsidy program, various loan and rent relief packages have all been helpful to a degree, but stop short of helping operators with the biggest challenge around liquidity,” he said.
Both Horgan and Wilkinson indicated there is little hope for any easing of international travel in 2020, with a 14-day isolation rule in effect for people entering or returning from the U.S. and elsewhere. That likely takes Vancouver out of the running to host a summer NHL playoff season.
For Black Ball Ferry Line, whose Coho car and passenger ferry has linked Victoria and Port Angeles WA since 1959, the wait since operations were shut down in March is a big concern.
“It’s going to be difficult for us to survive if this lasts a very long time,” Black Ball co-owner Ryan Malane told the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles.