Portions of Victoria’s tourism industry are already feeling the impact of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, especially since Washington state has become an epicentre of infections with 10 deaths linked to the disease as of Wednesday morning.
For the Coho ferry, which travels between Port Angeles and Victoria, there has been an increase in cancellations.
“We get maybe a handful a day,” said Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball Ferry line which operates the Coho ferry. “I definitely see the logic behind it; if it’s time to travel and you’re older and it’s not business, why risk it?”
Still, Burles added, Coho staff are taking extra time to sanitize the vessel between sailings.
The Victoria Clipper, which travels between Seattle and Victoria once a day (increasing to twice per day in May), has also seen a hit.
“We saw a pretty swift turn as Washington got identified with the first U.S. death, and we’re watching closely with the Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organization and keeping in close contact with the U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. and Canada border services,” said Scott Meis, vice president of marketing with the Clipper.
“We’re looking at cancellations coming in; so far it’s not too aggressive – only about 15 or so attributing it to the coronavirus specifically– but we’ve seen a softness in sales.”
The Clipper now has extra sanitation stations at terminals and on board, as well as signage with warnings about the coronavirus. Staff are wearing gloves and doing extra sanitation sweeps of galleys, floors, rails and major touch points, as well as offering masks to any passengers who appear to have respiratory symptoms.
“What we’re seeing so far is that customers have been appreciative of the extra steps,” Meis said.
Still, the federal government is insistent that the tourism industry will not be greatly impacted.
“My message to people around the world and to Canadians is Canada is spectacular and safe, so it’s a great time to discover a country,” said Mélanie Joly, minister of economic development and offical languages.
When asked what steps the federal government might take should a major outbreak happen, Joly was vague.
“We will be taking our calls from the public health officials, because that’s the most important thing: the fact that Canadians should be safe and healthy is paramount.”