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New report shows how COVID-19 hit Downtown Vancouver's economy

Last Updated May 15, 2021 at 6:41 pm PDT

Summary

At least 84 street-level, downtown businesses were shuttered last year

The absence of cruise ships, emptying of offices dealt a major blow to the local economy

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — A new report is shedding light on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on businesses in Vancouver’s downtown core.

A halt to tourism including a ban on cruise ships, COVID-19-related restrictions on restaurants and bars, and office buildings emptied out as workers were sent home — all these factors combined to deal a significant blow to the local economy. The 2020 State Of Downtown Report, put out by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), quantifies some of the effects changes ushered in by the pandemic.

At least 84 street-level businesses were shuttered last year, 45 per cent of which were independent businesses. The report also notes restaurants accounted for nearly half of all business closures.

DVBIA President Charles Gauthier says government support in the form of wage and rent subsidies, and the City’s program to expand patios did help some businesses hang on.

“I think it could have been a whole lot worse,” he says, adding the possibility of more closures remains as long as current restrictions on travel and indoor dining remain in place.

“If this goes into the fall or the weather until then is bad, that’ll put a lot more of those businesses at risk. We need people vaccinated, and people to come back to work.”

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The report finds that working from home shrunk downtown’s daytime workforce from about 116,000 people in 2019 to as low as 11,000 people last year. Office occupancy ranged between 10 and 30 per cent.

Gauthier says at-home workers being able to return to the office will be crucial for an economic recovery. In-person professional events like conventions and conferences wiul also be key.

“Those workers spend, on average, $30 a day, and much higher for businesses taking people to lunch. We estimate a loss of two million dollars a day.”

Gauthier says at-home workers being able to return to the office will be crucial for an economic recovery. In-person professional events like conventions and conferences wiul also be key.

Another detail revealed in the report is that tourists last summer mostly left the city, instead of coming in. Downtown hotel occupancy was 28 per cent in August of 2020, whereas in Penticton was hovering around 84 per cent.

RELATED: Downtown Vancouver business lobby wants clarification for B.C.’s optimistic post-COVID timeline

The absence of cruise ships docking in the city accounted for significant losses, according to the report.

“The cancellation of the 2020 cruise ship season shook downtown’s economy. In 2019, downtown’s cruise ship terminal welcomed over a million passengers from 288 voyages. It is estimated that on average each cruise ship arrival stimulated $3 million in direct spending to the local economy.”

Gauthier says he anticipates people will return to Vancouver when travel restrictions are lifted.

“We’re a strong destination brand and I think there will be pent-up demand,” he says.

With files from Lisa Steacy 

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