Tourism industry asks for more support during global pandemic

Tourism needs more support

If COVID-19 restrictions get lifted at the beginning of summer or at the end of summer will make a big difference to the local tourism industry.

With 40 hotels shut down in Metro Vancouver – three in Richmond – 80 per cent reduction in the restaurant business, including 85 per cent of staff laid off, and 126 large conferences cancelled in the region between March and June, the industry is seeing large-scale losses with some places experiencing zero revenue, explained Nancy Small, CEO of Tourism Richmond and co-chair of a regional task force looking at recovery.

The Metro Vancouver Tourism and Hospitality Industry Response and Recovery Task Force is co-chaired by Small and Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the BC Hotel Association and represents 50 tourism-based organizations.

It is compiling data on the scope of the impact from COVID-19 on tourism, looking at common needs within the industry and looking ahead on what assistance might be possible for recovery.

Already a week ago, the task force was asking senior levels of government to enhance the wage subsidies – with some tourism businesses bringing in zero dollars, it’s hard to keep paying employees even 25 per cent. They are also asking for more bridge financing, for example, interest-free loans or longer payback on loans.

There is so much discomfort given the uncertainty of when the situation will “turn a corner” and start on a path to recovery, that the feeling among the tourism industry oscillates between just surviving and trying to understand what that next phase will be, explained Small.

She added the tourism industry, however, is resilient, but there is an underlying uncertainty about a timeline to recovery.

“This will pass – there is no question – but without that corner or not knowing when that corner is going to come is difficult,” Small added.

And given the short tourist season in the Lower Mainland, when things get up and running again will affect the bottom line. If the large-scale shutdowns continue throughout the summer and don’t ease off until in August, that will make a huge difference.

Richmond was affected early the COVID-19 crisis – it started having an impact in January as Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled and continued to plummet with the bottom falling out in March.

But Small thinks when restrictions do ease off, there will be some pent-up demand and people will want to get out and do things.

She hopes at that point people will rally around local businesses and attractions to help in the recovery.

The expectation is that local travel will open up first, followed by inter-provincial, Canada-wide and eventually international travel.

Nevertheless, Small acknowledges, while there might be some pent-up demand, others, especially those hit by layoffs and reduced wages, might be more cautious in spending money.

While Small can’t say which part of tourism industry has been hit the hardest, she said the COVID-19 effect has shown what the ripple effect is when one sector is shut down.

“Everything is so inter-connected in the visitor economy,” she said.

Vancouver International Airport was experience as few as 3,000 passengers on some days – down from a daily normal of about 70,000 – and large parts of the airport are shut down. Venues like River Rock Casino and the Oval are closed and all tourist and heritage sites in Richmond remain closed.

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