Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: Residents should explore B.C. to help tourism industry amid COVID-19

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

As policy-makers struggle to the tabulate the immense damage being done by the Covid-19 pandemic, the shuttering of local businesses, and the onset of a global economic downturn, few B.C. industries are being hit harder than tourism. Globally, cross-border travel has come to a halt and airlines have stopped serving most international routes. For 2020 as a whole, forecasters expect a huge drop in overnight “tourist arrivals” worldwide, including in North America. The impact of this unprecedented situation is painfully evident in B.C.

For B.C., the health of tourism matters: it is one of the province’s most important industries, serving as a key source of employment and business activity across the province. According to Destination British Columbia, 160,000 jobs and $6 billion in wage and salary income depend on the industry. In 2019, tourism generated aggregate revenues of roughly $21 billion, a jump of more than 50 per cent since 2008. Some of this was spending by B.C. residents on within-province travel and at local hotels, restaurants and other venues. But almost $8 billion consisted of “export revenues,” a category that captures spending by non-B.C. residents on goods and services purchased while visiting our province. Tourism export earnings exceed those garnered from the sale of B.C. minerals and agri-food and fish products – making tourism one of the province’s leading export sectors.

Sadly, the tourism industry is staring at an economic calamity. The virtual cessation of air travel, the shutting of the Canada-U.S. border, and the closure of local restaurants, stores, parks, and entertainment and cultural facilities mean the number of out-of-province visitors will plunge this spring and summer – the most critical months for many tourism businesses. The economic carnage is widespread.

To begin with, more than half of the stunning 396,000 jobs lost in B.C. in March and April were in industries that are part of the broad tourism sector – hotels and motels, eating and drinking establishments, other segments of retail trade, air transportation, and leisure, entertainment and recreational services. Every segment of B.C.’s diverse tourism industry – from guide outfitters and fishing camp operators to hotels, resorts, taxis, museums, and luxury retail businesses – is being hammered by the disappearance of visitors. The industry has never experienced anything like it.

A recent on-line survey conducted by the British Columbia Regional Tourism Secretariat paints an alarming picture. It finds only 37 per cent of B.C. hotels, motels and other tourism businesses believe they can survive through the end of the summer, given social distancing measures and other operational restrictions currently in place. Visitor bookings continue to be cancelled or postponed, with four-fifths of the tourism businesses surveyed reporting slower bookings into the fall months. The convention, meetings and events business has cratered. And, many tourism businesses are grappling with a severe cash flow crunch as revenues shrivel yet fixed costs remain.

Thankfully, earlier this month the B.C. government unveiled its economic re-opening plan. In the coming weeks, restaurants, hotels, motels and most other consumer-facing business will be allowed to resume operations, subject to new health and safety protocols to protect employees and customers. However, the plan specified no date for the return of “international tourism,” suggesting that it may have to await the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. If so, that spells bad news for the various segments of the B.C. tourism industry that depend on visitors from overseas and the United States to help drive their business.

What can be done? The near-term outlook for international travel is dim. Some Americans will come if the border re-opens before the summer, but in smaller numbers than in previous seasons. For now, re-building tourism should focus on bolstering the domestic market and encouraging more visitors from next-door Alberta.

Now is the time for British Columbians to travel and vacation within the province, not just this summer but into the fall. This includes visiting B.C. communities that one may not have experienced before. It may also involve opting for close-to-home “staycations.” Those with the ability to do so should step up and patronize B.C. hotels, restaurants, sightseeing venues, cultural attractions, and other local tourism-businesses to help keep the industry alive until international visitors return.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Tourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

The City of Penticton is beginning work to install gates at the 200 Block breezeway on Main Street. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News file)
Penticton breezeway closed while city installs ‘decorative’ gates

The gates, estimated to cost $20k, are being installed to prevent ‘unwanted activity’

Louise with another load of bottles for ALERT. This super volunteer helps ALERT in so many ways. (Submitted)
Meet Penticton super volunteer Louise Hivon

Louise spearheads ALERT’s recycling fundraising, collecting bottles from anyone, everywhere

Oliver
A couple more South Okanagan schools with COVID-19 exposures

Penticton Christian School adds more exposure days, Oliver Elementary new on the list

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused, Horgan says

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

Vernon Search and Rescue’s helicopter team was asked to be on standby to rescue a missing hiker in Naramata. (Air Rescue One/VSAR photo)
Lost hiker rescued in Okanagan Mountain Park

COSAR, PENSAR, and VSAR worked together to rescue a hiker in Okanagan Mountain Park

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Increased COVID-19 activity brings vaccine clinic to Enderby

Registration opens Tuesday, April 20 for May clinic for anyone over the age of 18

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

courts
Penticton man guilty of assaulting young boys

Bryan Lamb was found guilty of two counts of assault

Abandoned Rail Brewing Company, located at 1220 Davenport Ave. on the KVR trail, has applied to the City of Penticton for a manufacturing facility and lounge endorsement. The city will review the application in their April 20, 2021 council meeting. (City of Penticton photo)
A new brewery could be coming to the KVR trail in the South Okanagan

The patio would seat up to 113 just 10 feet from the trail

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Most Read