VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Businesses and tourism operators have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while B.C.’s 2021 budget includes some support for those industries, the plan leaves some big questions for a number of operators and their futures.
B.C.’s tourism industry is being allocated $100 million in new spending in the province’s proposed 2021 budget. The fiscal plan is also looking to allocate $120 million in its 2021/22 Pandemic and Recovery Contingencies fund “for further tourism recovery and support,” which includes $20 million to help community destinations enhance infrastructure through grants.
Otherwise, there are only modest proposals to help the industry, which continues to deal with the repercussions of international travel grounding to a halt last year, and people being urged to avoid all non-essential trips, even from other provinces and regions of B.C.
Given the province’s latest restrictions on travel, including outside of one’s own health authority, the blows just keep coming for the tourism sector.
But that’s what the contingency funds are for, according to our finance minister, who notes the province continues to work with tourism operators and businesses to identify their specific needs.
“There are some resources there to help businesses as we continue to go through this third wave,” Selina Robinson said Tuesday of the Pandemic and Recovery Contingencies.
Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., says while the $100 million in new funding is welcome, particularly for large operators that haven’t received any assistance yet, the industry is looking for access to that recovery contingency fund as restrictions remain in place and as the Canada-U.S. border continues to be closed.
“We’ve been hit very hard, and we’ll be hit even harder with the impending travel restrictions,” Judas said of the measures announced on Tuesday the budget was unveiled.
“I’ve heard of an operator today that cancelled $100,000 worth of business in the month of May alone and had to layoff 20 employees in the process,” he added.
Judas notes many businesses won’t survive the next few months. It’s unclear at this time just how many, but he says some haven’t made any revenue for a year.
“They need money now in the form of grants or low-interest, no-interest loans,” he said, adding some operators have resorted to second mortgages, maxing out credit cards, and cashing out their RRSPs just to stay afloat.
“People are absolutely scared. They’re on the brink of losing everything, and some already have. They’re frustrated because, certainly, travel and tourism has been affected more than any other sector, and many of the restrictions that are implemented at the federal or provincial level affect our sector,” Judas explained.
But he says if the industry can hang on with government support over the course of the next month or so, there could be a chance to save the summer and in doing so save many of these businesses.
When it comes to the pace of money previously announced getting to businesses and tourism operators, Judas says it’s flowing much better than it was before.
“But there’s still money on the table. We need more money to flow into the hands of operators very quickly,” he told NEWS 1130. “The province committed $195 million to ensure [the Small and Medium Size Business Recovery Grant] is made whole this year, as well as from last year, the $345 million with about $150 million allocated to tourism and hospitality.”
However, he says operators now need to see more details on the province’s circuit breaker extension.
Greater Vancouver Board of Trade pleased with budget, but concerned about future
On the business side of things, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade highlights the difficulties the last year has brought.
While the group welcomes Budget 2021’s plans to continue investing in supports and initiatives to get businesses through pandemic challenges, the board notes there’s more that could still be done, citing concerns about the future.
“There are also significant amounts of unallocated funding that remains available to the government along with an improved economic outlook globally,” said Bridgitte Anderson, GVBOT president and CEO.
Business community expressing appreciation for govt supports but questions how this sets BC up moving forward — Greater Vancouver Board of Trade CEO @BridgAnderson says: "It’s not clear this budget puts B.C. on the fast track to thrive in an increasingly competitive world."
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) April 20, 2021
“…We are still striving for a post-pandemic vision for the economy that attracts investment, creates good jobs and promotes opportunity,” added Anderson.
The board is pleased with the budget on many other fronts, including when it comes to its proposals for childcare, training, and climate, giving the 2021/22 fiscal plan a B-.
But when it comes to future competitiveness, Anderson has concerns.
She says professionals in B.C. have seen some of the biggest increases to personal tax rates in recent times, and that it’s not clear if this budget puts our province on track to thrive in an increasingly competitive world.
Budget 2021 is building on supports and spending brought in amid the first, second, and third waves of the pandemic to help businesses and tourism operators. That means keeping things like the Small and Medium Sized Businesses Recovery Grant going, with the budget noting the program has been updated to streamline access and expand eligibility so more employers can benefit.
-With files from Liza Yuzda