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

Even the Peach is adhering to the mandatory mask protocols. (Monique Tamminga - Western News)
Letter: Wear a mask

Letter to the editor from head of Okanagan - Skaha Teacher’s Union

This is the Grinch in all his lit up glory at the Hughes’ yard on Granby Ave. (Hughes photo - Facebook)
The Grinch has been returned

“I guess someone’s heart grew three times that night” says April Hughes

Giant's Head Elementary
Second COVID-19 case at Giant’s Head Elementary

Letter sent to parents Dec. 3 about the recent case

Five trailblazing women stand on top of McIntyre Bluff near Vaseux Lake with Okanagan River below, circa 1930s. (photo courtesy of Doug Cox collection/Okanagan Archives Trust Society and Old BC: The Way it Was Facebook page.)
Trailblazing women from the 1930s take the ultimate selfie in Oliver

Wearing rattlesnake-proof boots, the women stand atop McIntyre Bluff

Paramedic Jason Manuel, dressed in PPE, inspects an ambulance at Station 341 on Nov. 30. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Second wave, twice the anxiety; Okanagan paramedics reflect on pandemic from the front line

‘I don’t know who that (next) person is going to be, I don’t want it to be me or my family’: Paramedic

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week t

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Police responded to W.L. Seaton Secondary after reports of young man attempting to smash car windows in the student parking lot on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Facebook)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

Member of W.L. Seaton Secondary exposure Nov. 26

Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP was called to a report of a fight at an Okanagan Landing Halloween party Saturday, Oct. 31, but issued the homeowner a ticket  under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act for having too many people at the party. (Black Press file photo)
West Kelowna man, dog rescued from carbon monoxide poisoning

The man was quickly transported to the hospital

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

The university’s new regalia honours its two host nations. (University of British Columbia)
UBC incorporates Musqueam, Syilx Okanagan symbols in new regalia

The re-designed regalia were worn during the university’s academic ceremonies in November

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Most Read