British Columbia

B.C.'s latest pandemic travel restrictions are 'devastating' blow for tourism, industry CEO says

In an extremely challenging year for the tourism industry, a two-week public health recommendation against non-essential travel in and out of B.C.'s Lower Mainland is the latest blow.

Weekend getaways were starting to pick up before latest order, according to Destination Greater Victoria

The fountain at the B.C. Legislature was lit up in honour of health-care workers in March. Destination Greater Victoria reports tourism-related revenue is down 70 per cent this year up through September. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The recent public health recommendation restricting non-essential travel in and out of the Lower Mainland has come as a "devastating" shock to tourism businesses in B.C., an industry leader says.

With the number of new COVID-19 cases surging to unprecedented levels in B.C., the province's Restart Plan, which removed a recommendation to avoid non-essential travel throughout the province in late June, took a step back with the announcement Saturday.

According to health officials, it's a measure required to slow the transmission of the virus — but it's another blow for the local tourism industry, which continues to be rocked by the pandemic.

"I can tell you today, the reaction is one of utter devastation," said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria. "We understand why this needs to happen — it doesn't mitigate the fact that it is devastating."

On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters the new public health order regarding social gatherings and a recommendation that people reduce travel, which is in force until at least Nov. 23, is based on areas where COVID-19 transmission has been identified.

"This virus was being spread when people were travelling around the province," said Henry. "We know that this virus moves with people and it is we who have the ability to stop that transmission."

The provincial health officer's comments came as she reported another 998 new cases over the previous two days, along with five new deaths, bringing the province's total death toll from the virus to 281.

Nancy Small, CEO of Tourism Richmond and co-chair of the Metro Vancouver Tourism and Hospitality Industry Response and Recovery Task Force, said while she travel restrictions are hard for an already hurting industry, there were pockets of the province that saw some tourism activity this summer. (CBC)

Nancy Small, CEO of Tourism Richmond and co-chair of the Metro Vancouver Tourism and Hospitality Industry Response and Recovery Task Force, said the new recommendation is realistically needed right now, but that the tourism sector is not responsible for the surge in cases.

"It's been extremely safe to travel over the last few months," said Small on CBC's The Early Edition on Tuesday.

This, she said, was evident during the summer when some pockets of B.C. did get an injection of tourism business without seeing a spike in infections.

Tourism revenues down 70%

According to Nursey, revenues were down 70 per cent this year through September for the tourism industry in the Greater Victoria area. There had been, however, some recent success with weekend getaways, he said.

"We see travel from all over Canada, and we're not aware of any outbreaks related to any of our hotels or attractions this summer, whatsoever," said Nursey, pointing out that travellers from outside the Lower Mainland are still welcome to visit Vancouver Island.

But after four months of non-essential travel expressly permitted by health officials, the new restriction is a frustration for the tourism CEO.

"Governments need to make a strategic choice. They need to let one of the most important industries in the economy to shut down and fail entirely, or they need to support us," said Nursey. "The stopping and starting is absolutely killing the industry."

He said doing what's necessary to get through a second wave of COVID-19 infection in B.C. is "the only responsible thing to do," but with news of a potential vaccine in the new year and a promising rapid testing pilot, Nursey hopes businesses can get clear guidance on the pathway to reopening.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story referred to the new travel restrictions as an order, based on published B.C. government information. The B.C. Health Ministry has since clarified that the travel restrictions are a recommendation, not part of the order.
    Nov 10, 2020 4:02 PM PT

With files from The Early Edition

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