British Columbia

Possible extensions of travel restrictions spell bad news for B.C.'s struggling tourism industry

B.C. businesses are bracing for the impacts of potentially more travel restrictions in B.C. as COVID-19 cases continue to soar to new daily records.

Businesses that made it through spring lockdown say more restrictions could mean disaster

Whistler's mayor, Jack Crompton, says COVID-19 has been 'devastating' for the town, and flattening the curve is critical as ski season begins. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With snow coming down and the ski hills days from opening, the last thing Whistler needs is another lockdown.

But that's what's on Mayor Jack Crompton's mind as he keeps an eye on daily COVID-19 numbers, and they're not looking good.

A record 762 new cases were announced on Wednesday, hours after Premier John Horgan urged British Columbians to avoid non-essential travel. More restrictions could become a reality in the days to come.

It's a bleak outlook during what would normally be an exciting time of the year for Whistler — but, of course, nothing's been normal this year. 

"This has been devastating for our town. We live, we breathe, we love tourism," Crompton said.

"We miss it and we need it and that's why flattening this curve is so critical to getting that back and keeping it for the long run."

Currently, non-essential travel is restricted in and out of the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions. Horgan is calling on the federal government to implement a "pan-Canadian approach" to non-essential travel.

Although he said B.C. would not implement rules that would create a provincial "bubble," he said the province is looking at whether a 14-day quarantine rule should be introduced for travellers arriving on Vancouver Island.

Some B.C. businesses that survived the spring say more restrictions on travel would put them in even bigger trouble.

Revenues are already down by 70 per cent this year through September for the tourism industry in the Greater Victoria area, according to Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria.

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says restrictions could come with unintended consequences — like job losses from the long-term closure of large hotels.

For hotels like the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, B.C., a two-week travel ban can look more like a six-week ban, says the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

"People will be directly impacted by those decisions and they may be the right decisions, but they're not without significant impact," he said.

A two-week travel ban looks more like a six-week ban in the hotel industry, he said, because of delays in reopenings and customer behaviours.

'A shutdown would be the worst thing'

Travel restrictions are a worrisome thought for Patt Dyck, co-owner of Cannery Brewing Company in Penticton.

Her area is heavily reliant on tourism from outside of the province, she said, and an outright ban would have devastating impacts on local businesses already trying to get back on their feet after shutdowns last spring.

"A shutdown would be the worst thing for all of us," Dyck said.

She wants British Columbians to take public health guidance seriously, but hopes it doesn't have to come down to restrictions that could spell trouble for businesses — again.

"If we can take a couple of weeks and just re-group, manage to stay open, manage to not have to have a complete shut down, I think for all of us that kind of takes this double-edged sword and puts it a little farther away from ripping us apart," she said.

Customers outside of their area can still support the brewery at their local liquor store. Dyck says communities will have to also find ways to support their own local businesses if they want to see them through the winter. 

The tourism industry is urging the province to be crystal clear in whatever restrictions could be coming to allow them to plan accordingly, said Vivek Sharma, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.

"We don't know if the majority of our businesses will see the spring. If it does come down to the fact that there's no travel within B.C., then I'm not even sure where to begin," he said. 

"The impact is going to be profound."

With files from Zahra Premji

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