British Columbia

How B.C.'s hotels and resorts are planning to safely reopen to tourists in June

As the B.C. government moves to cautiously restart B.C.'s economy in stages, resort and hotel operators are preparing for a tourist season that will look vastly different from summer's past. 

Summer tourist season will look dramatically different this year

Tourists will once again be allowed at popular destinations like B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, as resort and hotel operators prepare to reopen in June. (Shutterstock / EB Adventure Phot)

As the B.C. government moves to cautiously restart B.C.'s economy in stages, resort and hotel operators are preparing for a tourist season that will look vastly different from summers past. 

With Tuesday marking the beginning of Phase 2 of the economic recovery plan — during which British Columbians are told to stay close to home and avoid non-essential travel — Phase 3, which begins in June as long as transmission rates remain low, will see hotels and resorts reopening.

Long Beach Lodge in Tofino, B.C., will reopen to visitors starting June 3, provided there are no alarming increases in cases. But the resort's business manager says it won't be business as usual. 

"We are hoping to be operating at about 50 per cent … just to maintain social distancing," said Samantha Hackett, business manager at Long Beach Lodge Resort. 

"It's not running at anything close to [past] summer numbers," she said.

The resort is developing new protocols for staff and guests using social distancing guidelines provided to the province's resorts and hotels by WorkSafeBC, the provincial government and the BCCDC.

Guests of the resort will check in with a new, no-contact system and, to keep staff and guests safely apart, cleaning staff will not enter rooms for the duration of a guest's stay. 

B.C. guests only, to start

When it reopens June 15, Tofino's Wickaninnish Inn will only be welcoming B.C. guests, to start. A hotel representative said each guest will have their ID checked to ensure they are residents..

Starting July 6, however, travellers from other provinces, as well as Americans — depending on border restrictions — will be welcomed. 

Tofino's mayor says residents are understandably a bit anxious at the concept of tourists once again descending on the remote destination.

"It's amazing how fast we got used to some pretty big changes, and now we are emerging from a sort of cocoon if you will," Josie Osborne said. 

"Some people are anxious to get back to work," and some people are not, she said.

The Sunshine Lodge Inn in Gibsons, B.C., has been welcoming essential service workers since the beginning of the pandemic. (Sunshine Lodge Inn)

At the Sunshine Lodge Inn in Gibsons, B.C., general manager Erica Kittson has been working full on, welcoming essential workers from BC Hydro and Telus who have been brought in for emergencies since the pandemic began.

Kittson laid off her entire staff and has been working alone managing the inn and doing all the cleaning. 

She says the thought of the province lifting travel restrictions and allowing regular guests to return scares her.

"I live in daily fear of having it, but people need to do their jobs and I just thought, 'You gotta do what you gotta do,'" she said.

Whistler's plans

In B.C.'s biggest resort town, plans are underway for a "possible" reopening in early summer, according to Marc Riddell, the West Coast director of communications for Vail Resorts in Whistler.

Riddell says the company is taking a collaborative approach, working with other community stakeholders like the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Tourism Whistler to come up with new operating measures that are in line with government and health authority guidelines.

"We need to get it right. We're not going to rush into anything until we are certain we have an operating plan that is careful and measured, and is sustainable," said Riddell.

Whistler resident Chris Bridge says a slower reopening of the resort town is the right approach to keeping residents from being overwhelmed with an overnight onslaught of tourists. 

"Some people are nervous, but most of the people that I hang out with, we're all of the same mindset: tourism is important to our town," Bridge said. 

"We have to collectively be smarter and safer and more conscious of social distancing and respecting people's space." 

It's a sentiment shared with Tofino's mayor, who says if you are considering a trip to Tofino, try to set realistic expectations for travel's new normal.

"We'll be happy to host people, but please be kind and patient and understanding with us as well," Osborne said.

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