In this Sept. 25, 2018 photo, visitors walk near Canada Place, a tourism and convention center in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In this Sept. 25, 2018 photo, visitors walk near Canada Place, a tourism and convention center in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OPINION: B.C.’s tourism and hospitality sector desperately needs a restart plan

Pandemic’s trickle-down impact is particularly large and insidious at a local and community level

The pandemic has hit tourism, one of B.C.’s largest sectors, historically employing 300,000 workers and contributing over $8 billion in GDP, hardest among all provincial industries.

Given that tourism has on average generated $1.7 billion in annual tax revenue and contributed more to GDP than any primary resource sector, it is devastating news for our provincial economy that many tourism operators have been down 90 per cent in revenue for more than a year.

This is made worse by the termination of tens of thousands of tourism and hospitality jobs, impacting families at a social and economic level in every community and region across our province.

Because tourism weaves through all communities and regions of our province, the pandemic’s trickle-down impact is particularly large and insidious. B.C.’s visitor economy provides revenue that makes the difference between sustainable operations and bankruptcy not only for many restaurants, hotels, transportation providers, and retailers, but also for myriad other non-hospitality subsectors, suppliers and trades. In turn, B.C. residents are able to enjoy many products and experiences that are supported by tourism dollars.

With the border remaining closed for a second year and only a limited domestic market to draw from, B.C.’s tourism and hospitality industry is facing a similar dismal forecast for 2021.

To make matters worse, we now see international operators cancelling 2022 tours because B.C. cannot adequately define its safe restart conditions to allow the visitor economy to fully reopen.

Next year’s sales season is already upon us — a period when tour operators normally make large cash commitments to secure air seats, hotels, meals, and attraction tickets. It is concerning to see our long-standing customers book business with competitor destinations because they see certainty in their restart plans and appreciate that positive signal towards tourism.

Other countries are quickly acting on this realization to publish tourism restart plans, the purpose of which is to provide their industry with a framework to ensure the safe resumption of leisure travel.

Vaccination rates are rising, and our sector believes now is the appropriate time for the province to urgently act to help save B.C.’s pre-eminent position as a world class destination. Collaboration with the federal government and industry leaders to establish Canada’s tourism restart program will be a make-or-break effort for our industry. Otherwise, 40 years of infrastructure development and sustainable tourism momentum will be lost.

Through loss of jobs and tax revenue, few British Columbians will escape some level of impact caused by the growing devastation that B.C.’s tourism sector is suffering.

B.C.’s tourism industry has stepped up to support our health authorities and now, to remain competitive against other destinations and save many skilled jobs, it is critical that government and industry work together to devise a plan that safely restarts domestic leisure travel and ensures, when it is safe to do so, the smooth opening of our border. Cornerstones of the recommended plan include:

• Definition of milestones and conditions that must be reached before travel restrictions are lifted and borders are opened, as well as operational criteria for post-opening. As the tourism season is short and every day of revenue is critical, such a plan will allow businesses to efficiently use current down time to plan and make restart investments.

• Assuming that COVID will be with us for many years, implementation of a vaccination verification process that synchronizes with other countries. Non-vaccinated travellers can then be streamed through a safety channel using the same effective COVID procedures now in use by airlines. This will allow equitable travel access for all global citizens while keeping Canadians safe.

• Financial support during the critical restart phase. Cash-starved tourism companies need to invest in inventory and staff and are therefore most vulnerable at this time. Critical measures to achieve this include tailored liquidity measures and workforce support in the form of continuing wage subsidies.

It’s not just the 2021 season that is in jeopardy. The indicators for 2022 are red, so now is the time to work together to develop a tourism-specific resumption plan that signals B.C. understands the planning needs of its wholesale and retail customers and is ready to resume tourism as soon as it is safe to do so.

To provide needed confidence, industry needs this plan next week, when Canada’s national wholesale marketplace, Rendez-vous, is virtually held.

For the tourism industry, this is a significant event because it connects international travel buyers with Canadian tourism professionals to create critical connections that will support the recovery and resilience of the tourism sector in the months and years ahead.

This will give our industry a fair chance to rally behind government efforts and ensure B.C.’s tourism economy starts strong, starts safely, and does not die of exhaustion on the starting line.

Chief Clarence Louie is CEO of Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation. Nancy Stibbard is owner and CEO of The Capilano Group. John Wilson is president and CEO of The Wilson’s Group of Companies. Mandy Farmer is president and CEO of Accent Inns. Brian McCutcheon is founder/owner of ROAM Adventures. Victoria Olmstead is founder of Elisi Spa & Wilderness Resort.

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