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B.C. mayors open to local visitors as province prepares for Phase 3 of Restart Plan

Last Updated Jun 23, 2020 at 11:06 am PDT

Westwood Lake Trail in Nanaimo. (Source: Twitter/Buccaneer Inn)

As B.C. prepares to enter Phase 3, many communities are hoping to welcome visitors from around the province

Mayors are asking anyone visiting their communities to follow the rules to prevent spread of COVID-19

Hotel industry has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. could be moving onto Phase 3 of its restart plan as soon as this week, and with it, comes the potential for more people to head out of town for a getaway some-where else in the province.

Some mayors are desperate to welcome visitors, provided they follow the rules once they arrive.

“The hotel sector in our community has been devastated by COVID,” Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog says. “We certainly to welcome visitors in a safe manner, consistent with Dr. Henry’s directions, that will ensure that the people who have been facing economic ruin, candidly, will have an opportunity to work.”

He adds he absolutely wants people to visit his community, but urges potential visitors to keep in mind that COVID-19 is still spreading.

“I think people who come to Vancouver Island have to respect the fact that we’ve done a first-rate job in containing the spread of the virus and limiting the number of cases,” Krog explains. “What we’re asking visitors to do is exercise extreme caution, but enjoy our wonderful outdoors, our many amenities that have attracted people to the Island for decades.”

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He notes other Vancouver Island mayors are on the same page.

In the Okanagan, Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff says the town has been seeing more visitors over the past few weeks.

She believes they and businesses appear to be doing their part amid the coronavirus crisis, and are following health guidelines.

“We are open for business, but we want to make sure people are doing it in a safe, respectful way,” she says of visiting her community. “I know that the hotels and motels, which have never closed, they are doing a really good job of making sure that the people that visit them, the tourists, and people who stay at the hotels are safe, and also the people who work there.”

McKortoff notes bylaw officers have been out to keep an eye on the situation.

A concern many municipal leaders in smaller communities have is overburdening local health resources.

Dr. Bonnie Henry continues to urge vacationers to take the same precautions they would on their trip that they would at home when we move into the next phase of the province’s restart plan.

Hotels and tourism hard hit by COVID-19

While it wasn’t ordered to close amid the coronavirus outbreak, the hotel industry has been hard-hit and isn’t expected to fully rebound from effects of COVID-19 at least until borders are reopened to foreign travelers.

However, some domestic tourism will likely help.

“For Metro Vancouver, Phase 3 offers a glimmer of hope, but operators still feel that we are still deep in the woods,” says Ted Lee, Acting CEO of Tourism Vancouver. “Our hope is that B.C. and our key markets will quickly and effectively flatten [the] curve and begin re-opening of our borders.”

Tourism Vancouver created The Metro Vancouver Tourism and Hospitality Industry Response and Recovery Task Force, which estimates that there has been a loss of $9.8 billion in visitor spending and a decrease of $5.8B in GDP for the tourism industry.

“The impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sectors has been immense and devastating,” adds Lee.

In Nanaimo, Krog says his city’s hotel occupancy rates drop from about 95 per cent in some cases to just five per cent.

B.C. Hotel Association President and CEO Ingrid Jarrett is hopeful about the reopening of hotels, but tells NEWS 1130 that proper health and safety protocols must be in place.

“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafeBC to ensure that the protocols to reopen have been developed and sent to industry with all kinds of support mechanisms like training and finding different supplies and inventory that they might need,” says Jarrett.

Related article: Summer of 2020 will be make or break year for B.C.’s hotels

She adds the B.C. Hotel Association has developed its Best Practices Guidelines, a 35-page document with necessary guidelines for tourism and hospitality businesses to adopt as they resume operations.

Local hotel operators look forward to reopening but are tentative about how successful the summer season will be.

“We basically collected as much data as we could regarding the best practices and products and stuff like that,” says Brian McLauchlan, GM of the Victorian Hotel on Homer Street, which shut down on March 23.

He adds his hotel has pushed its reopen until the end of June and will only open to 50 per cent of its capacity.

“You put any kind of a hockey game or concert on, we’re full,” says McLauchlan. “But now, there are no events.”

McLauchlan notes Americans normally make up 50 per cent of the Victorian Hotel’s occupancy. This will continue to impact his hotel given the extension of restrictions on all non-essential Canada-U.S. travel to at least June 21.

Jacqui McMullen, GM of Times Square Suites Hotel, says she will be following WorkSafBC guidelines and adhering to all standards put forth by the hotel industry. However, occupancy will be way down due to the ban on cruise ships.

“Going into June, our normal occupancy is 95 per cent. And right now, we’re looking at, you know, 10 per cent,” says McMullen.

The Canadian government announced in May that cruise ships carrying 100 passengers or more would be banned until at least Oct. 31.