'We need a plan': B.C. tourism operators call for reopening timeline as more vaccines roll out
VICTORIA -- The B.C. tourism sector has been hammered during the pandemic, and while increased vaccination rates are showing a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s still a problem for the industry.
"We need a plan as an industry, as a province, and as a country as we move forward for a restart post-pandemic," said John Wilson, president and CEO of the Wilson’s Group.
Wilson’s Group operates bus lines mainly for the tourism sector on Vancouver Island. Wilson says his industry often pre-sells its products or experiences months or even years in advance. With Canada’s largest tourism trade show happening next week, he knows he’s going to get questions from foreign operators about 2022 bookings.
"As I stand here today talking to you, I can’t give a firm, structured, honest answer to our clients because we don’t have a plan right now," said Wilson.
"They’re going to ask us, 'Do you have a roadmap for reopening?' and we’re going to say, 'No we don’t,'" said Mandy Farmer, CEO of Accent Inns.
"Then what’s going to happen is they’re going to choose another destination."
Accent Inns recently opened a new Hotel Zed in Tofino and is about to launch a restaurant called Roar on May 25. That’s when the latest travel ban is set to end.
"So in the meantime, we have to hire and staff up and make sure that we are ready to go," said Farmer.
She wants the province to indicate if those travel restrictions will be lifted or not.
In a statement to CTV News, B.C.'s Minister of Jobs and Economic Recovery, Ravi Kahlon, said he knew the tourism industry was struggling.
"We are focused on getting past the current restrictions, especially for those businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector that have been so hard hit during this pandemic," he said.
"The good news right now is our case counts are going down and vaccinations are going up."
The provincial government has yet to comment on concrete timelines for when restrictions may be lifted.
"I think a vaccine passport is an excellent idea," said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA).
The GVHA operates the cruise ship terminal at Ogden Point. Robertson is calling on the federal government to require vaccine passports from tourists coming into the country.
"I think it would give the community a huge sense of relief and security to know that 100 per cent of the cruise ship passengers coming into their community are vaccinated," he said.
Robertson says the federal government also needs to give some type of indication of when the land and sea boarders will be opened again.
"The tourism industry, the cruise industry is not like a flick of the switch, it’s a dimmer switch," he said. "It need time to react, it needs time to open up, it needs time to plan."