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B.C.'s tourism industry says provincial funding not enough, looks for travel to resume

Last Updated Dec 23, 2020 at 6:48 am PST

(Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

As B.C. announces additional funding, the tourism industry says it needs more if it wants to recover from COVID-19

Tourism Industry Association of BC wants to see rapid testing made widely available

B.C.'s tourism sector is hoping travel will once again be allowed in the new year to help it recover

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C.’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry is barely scraping by because of the pandemic and it needs a few things to go right in 2021 to help it bounce back.

It’s tricky because the industry relies so heavily on travellers from around the province, the country, and the world. But with strict travel restrictions in place, it’s unlikely those rules will be lifted anytime soon.

Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of BC, says what’s needed in the meantime is rapid testing to be made widely available. He’s also hoping as many people as possible get vaccinated when they’re able to and, ideally, that the Canada-U.S. border re-opens sooner than later, which he’s aware isn’t realistic at this time.

“We need to set a target to re-open international borders, but more importantly, work toward criteria that allows that to happen.”

Judas is also calling on both the provincial and federal governments for clarity around what’s open and what exactly people are allowed to do safely.

“We also need the data and information that informs our industry why decisions are made and the rationale behind them. For example, if government forbids business meetings, what do we need to know or learn from the data and science behind that decision? That’s critical for in order for our industry to move forward in 2021 and beyond.”

Initial estimates suggested it would take the provincial tourism industry 12 to 18 months to recover, he says. Now, that window is more likely three to five years.

“[We’re] very worried because we don’t know what the criteria is for bringing international visitors back, which is really the backbone of our visitor economy. We don’t know if that’s vaccines are in place and people are inoculated, not only from within British Columbia and Canada but from other parts of the world. There are a number of things that need to happen in order for the visitor economy to restart in a significant way, both around the world and within our own country and province and it’s slow in the making, so the recovery will be slow to be sure.”

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Judas says the COVID-19 vaccine roll out gives the struggling sector hope, but in the long term, many operators are worried about what effect the pandemic has had on their bottom line.

“We really need to think about this over a longer term period and that is looking at ways and means to open international borders, in particular try to learn how that process will unfold, when, what the criteria looks like and how will we accept people who have been inoculated from other countries? What’s the plan around that? When is that to happen? If, for example, the vast majority of Americans have been inoculated but conversely Canadians haven’t been, would we welcome them back? We don’t have the answers to those questions but that is something the industry desperately needs answers to from all levels of government.”

As much as Judas says re-opening travel around B.C. would help, it’s not the solution to fix the industry’s money problems.

“Domestic travel will not and never will make up for the lack of international visitors who spend the lion’s share of dollars with communities and tourism operators throughout the province. We have to figure out at what point will it be safe to re-open border [crossings] or let’s set a target and work toward that target to try and understand the criteria that’s necessary to re-open [the] border and bring international visitors back.”

In September, Judas told NEWS 1130, the industry needed hundreds of millions of dollars in economic support. In that time, the provincial government has invested just over $100 million.