It’s tough to think of an industry COVID-19 hit harder than tourism. For the past year, the BC government has advised against non-essential travel. Currently, anyone travelling into Canada from abroad has to quarantine for 14 days, take a Covid test both on arrival and again near the end of their two week quarantine period. If these rules last into summer many businesses that rely on international tourism won’t survive.
Essential travel for things like work and medical appointments is just not anywhere near enough to make up the lost revenue for hotels, restaurants, gift shops and other businesses that rely on tourists.
In 2019, British Columbia saw a total of 6,213,752 overnight international visitors to the province, including 3,980,733 visitors from the US, 1,348,676 from Asia Pacific, and 607,807 visitors from Europe, according to the Tourism Industry Association of BC. In 2019, tourism employed over 151,000 people, and was an over $20 billion industry for the province. In 2020, that industry collapsed to around $7 billion.
Vivek Sharma, Chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. and CEO of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort has been vocal in calling for a competitive reopening plan. “If the industry does not get the strategic support it needs — support that will allow it to adapt to this new reality — it will collapse, period,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Province.
The effect is exceptionally apparent in areas like Gastown, where cruise ships usually dock and tourists rush off to take photos with the steam clock, peruse the gift shops, and grab a bite. Now, the neighbourhood is a ghost town, with shops boarded up and streets eerily empty.
Shutting down for a few months and there’s a chance for businesses to bounce back, but now, a year into the restrictions and facing an uncertain summer, there’s no way for them to plan and nothing for them to hold on for.
According to a report from Destination BC, international visitors spend almost three times as much per night as BC residents. Locals and travelers from within the province can certainly help, but convincing them to loosen their purse strings requires a cohesive messaging and marketing plan.
There’s a lot of talk about pent-up demand for travel which might trigger a tourism boom once vaccinations reach a critical mass. But the lack of a clear timeline, and uncertainty over how the emerging variants will affect travel in the future makes planning next to impossible.
We may not be able to safely fling open our borders and throw Covid caution to the wind, but if to save an industry that makes up so much of both our economy and identity here in BC, a plan is necessary.
Many hotels and resorts across the province have robust Covid-safety protocols in place, but traveling to different cities is still discouraged. A more open summer will help, but to know how to prepare, the tourism industry needs lead time, and direction how to travel safely.
Even if it’s just within the province, the time is coming where vacations and weekend getaways should be safe. For any hope of saving tourism, the messaging around this needs to pivot quickly, or the tourism landscape in BC will be unrecognizable.
Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]
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