Greater Victoria tourism leaders call for government help surviving pandemic
VICTORIA -- Springtide Whale Watching & Eco Tours normally has 40 employees, but now it’s down to three. Its five boats would normally be full of tourists before the May long weekend, but now they sit empty in Victoria’s inner harbour.
Whale watching companies are just one of the many casualties in the tourism industry that has been decimated by COVID-19, triggering tourism leaders to call on the provincial and federal governments to help them survive for the next 18 months.
Paul Nursey, the head of Destination Greater Victoria, is part of a task force calling on the governments for help. He says it’s a critical time for many businesses affected by the coronavirus.
“Industries really are risking bleeding out and closing permanently,” Nursey said.
Among the requests being made by the task force are subsidies or interest free loans to help businesses like Wilson’s Group of Companies. Their bus lot is full of vacant vehicles, many usually full with cruise ship passengers hitting hot spots like Butchart Gardens.
“It’s been devastating,” said John Wilson, the president of the company.
“We’re down revenue by 98 per cent for April and May, and not looking much better for June either for the time being.”
Another request from the task force is for funding to help pay for safety measures needed for physical distancing, such as plexiglass dividers in buses to separate drivers from passengers.
Those types of new expenses, coupled with lower revenue from fewer passengers, could cause businesses to implode, says Wilson.
“It’s going to be pretty tough for all of us to survive without support.”
The industry has also pitched extending employee wage subsidies.
The province issued a statement saying it will continue advocating for funds from the federal government. On Wednesday, Premier Horgan acknowledged that B.C. tourism has been hammered by the pandemic and said that help was coming. But, no plans will be released until after the May long weekend.
So, for now, many whale watching boats will be empty and until there’s a vaccine for the coronavirus they may well be only half full at best.