Some Vancouver Island tourism operators say they’re paying the price because B.C. failed to act sooner to curb spiking COVID-19 case numbers.
B.C. Premier John Horgan announced further travel restrictions this week, saying people won’t be able to travel outside their health authority except for essential reasons until after the May long weekend.
In addition, Horgan said the province is working with the tourism sector to eliminate any bookings from outside their health region, and that BC Ferries will stop taking reservations for recreational vehicles and contact those with reservations to make sure their travel is essential.
The new measures fall on the cusp of the summer tourist season, and as B.C. struggles with record-high hospitalizations and daily case numbers of more than 1,000 during much of April. On Wednesday, there were 862 new cases of the virus and another record 483 people in hospital, 164 of whom are in intensive care.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth is slated to introduce and clarify the new orders on Friday.
They couldn't have done things worse, operator says
But in the meantime, the onus is on tourism operators to take the financial hit and fix the problem because the province didn’t act when it should have, said Bill Dougan, general manager of Gorge Harbour Marina Resort on Cortes Island.
“They’re nuts, and they have to get their act together,” said Dougan, adding not only are the restrictions too late, but they also threaten to sink a second summer season.
“They’re nuts, and they have to get their act together,” said resort manager Bill Dougan, adding that not only are B.C.'s new travel restrictions too late, but they also threaten to sink a second summer season. #COVID #Restrictions
“The government had an opportunity in January, February and March to shut things down and clamp down pretty hard when things were starting to get out of hand,” he said.
“They could not have done things worse, announcing these things in May, when people are planning their summer holiday.”
The uncertainty for guests and operators will stretch beyond May into the entire summer season, said Dougan, adding that without any advance warning from government, most operators have spent thousands of dollars to prepare for the upcoming season.
No one can deny that now stricter measures must go into effect, Dougan said, but simply urging people not to travel early this spring was ineffective.
“They’ve done nothing to stop people from going anywhere … and now they’ve had to bring in rules when it’s going to damage this upcoming year as well.”
Lynden McMartin, general manager for Taku Resort and Marina on Quadra Island, agreed the government was slow to act.
“Hindsight is 20/20, but they really should have shut everything down hard in January or February, and we would be in a much better place than where we're at right now,” McMartin said.
In addition, businesses are also struggling to understand who is allowed to book reservations — and when — even if it’s within the same health authority, he added.
“Our health authority region is all of Vancouver Island,” McMartin said, adding there are also four health service areas within the authority.
“I asked (Island Health) to get clarification on that, and they didn’t know either,” McMartin said.
Anthony Everett, Tourism Vancouver Island (TVI) president and CEO, said he has been inundated with calls since Horgan’s announcement.
“It’s been like a fire hose since Monday,” said Everett, adding he’s been in non-stop Zoom meetings with other industry associations to get on board with the province’s wishes and prioritize what the tourism sector needs to know from government moving forward.
TVI has gotten hundreds of questions from tourism operators trying to get clarification, Everett said.
Two key issues that need extra clarity are around operators cancelling bookings, and more information around what travel is allowed within a health authority, Everett said.
‘These are some of the questions we’re trying to get sorted out,” he said.
“Everybody in the industry wants to get this right because they understand what's at risk.”
But, the main takeaway message from the province is that people should be staying at home over the next five weeks and stop travelling altogether, Everett said, adding he cancelled a camping reservation at a site 20 minutes from his home.
And many operators are reporting that lots of travellers are cancelling reservations of their own accord, he added.
It’s critical to get case numbers and hospitalizations down while vaccines roll out, he said.
“If we don’t control these things, it will have a real detrimental impact on an industry that is already hurting terribly.”
The tourism industry expects to get more clarity from the province Friday, and then help operators work to meet the guidelines as best they can, Everett said.
McMartin is also hoping for more clarity and an end to soft messaging by government on Friday.
“Either it’s no travel or yes, you can travel,” McMartin said.
“But don't say, we're advising you not to travel and then expect people to do that, because people don’t listen very well to advice.”