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

Providence Health Care has teamed up with partners, including Island Health, to launch the first remote cochlear implant (CI) mapping program for adults in British Columbia. Duncan’s Alan Holt was one of the first to test it out. (Submitted)
Remote cochlear clinic offers shorter commute for patients like Duncan’s Alan Holt

Duncan man one of the first to test virtual mapping program

Larry Fiege, right, from Fiege’s Farm shows a rapt audience the old-fashioned way to tap a Bigleaf Maple during the Maple Syrup Festival at the BC Forest Discovery Centre Feb. 1 and 2, 2020. (Andrea Rondeau/Citizen)
Maple Syrup Festival in Duncan cancelled

The annual syrup festival is a popular event at the BC Forest Discovery Centre

The Lake Cowichan Legion received federal funding in December, 2020 to help the organization weather the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted)
Lake Cowichan Legion receives federal COVID-19 assistance funding

Can be used for expenses such as insurance, utilities, rent or mortgages, property taxes, and wages.

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Do you know someone who should not be driving?

We are currently living about 10 years longer than our ability to drive safely.

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo mountain with flares during icy rope rescue

Rescuers got injured hiker down Mt. Benson to a waiting ambulance Saturday night

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

Most Read