British Columbia

Room at the inn: B.C.'s tourism hot spots still have vacancies as locals plan summer trips

The B.C. premier's announcement this week to further open the province for travel is a boon to locals who want to explore the province and stay at some of the best spots often snapped up by travellers from abroad.

Still plenty of accommodations at province’s best spots as officials green-light trips

Boats in Ganges harbour on Salt Spring Island. (Tracy Johnson/CBC)

The B.C. premier's announcement this week to further open the province for travel is a boon to locals who want to explore the province and stay at some of the best spots often snapped up by travellers from abroad.

Communities that rely heavily on tourism say they have been preparing for months for this and are confident they will be able to host visitors in a way that keeps them, and their own residents, safe from further outbreaks of COVID-19.

According to Destination B.C., the provincially funded corporation that promotes tourism in the province, residents are confident about travelling within their own province.

"We are seeing a steep increase in bookings, there's a lot of excitement in the industry," said Maya Lange, who speaks for Destination B.C.

Lange says on average there are more than 20 million trips made in B.C. each year either by residents, other Canadians, or those from abroad. 

While there will be far fewer international visits to the province this summer due to border and travel restrictions, she is hopeful locals will make around eight million trips to help bolster the province's lagging economy.

Already this weekend, traffic at BC Ferries terminals was up and resulted in some waits — something that was rare at the height of the pandemic, even with sailings reduced by as much as half. 

On Wednesday, Premier John Horgan announced a further easing of restrictions set in place to control COVID-19, meaning residents will be allowed to travel within the province as hotels, motels, resorts, spas, and RV parks look to reopen.

Hot spots already scooped?

Still, despite the green light, the clamour from B.C. residents to scramble away from home from now until Labour Day has not resulted in accommodations being snapped up in hotspots like Tofino and Whistler.

Tofino, a desirable destination for its beaches, culture and remoteness, is often heavily booked well in advance of summer. However, a recent search for properties through online hotel booking sites or Airbnb show places still available for the Canada Day holiday and beyond.

It's the same for destinations around Victoria and in B.C.'s Southern Interior.

Lauren Everest, who speaks for Tourism Whistler, says there is still lots of accommodation to choose from in the resort town this summer, with the best deals and smallest crowds at mid-week.

"Whistler is very much looking forward to having visitors come back to our community," she said. "Tourism is the life-blood of our community."

Tourism Whistler says the resort town is ready to welcome back visitors as the province enters Phase 3 of its response to COVID-19. (Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane)

'Do your research'

Everest says the resort town has spent months preparing for the return of visitors with safety in mind. Part of that is preparing visitors for what to expect in Whistler if they come this summer.

"It is going to be more important than ever to do your research to plan ahead and to know before you go," she said.

The municipality has published summer visitor guidelines on it website, which include asking people to take it easy and avoid injury so there is no extra burden on the region's health services.

'Quiet but picking up'

Officials like Everest acknowledge there is apprehension from some residents about a resurgence of COVID-19 as more people travel.

Jessica Harkema, the executive director of the chamber of commerce on Salt Spring Island, says 65 per cent of residents are in an older demographic that's more at risk from COVID-19.

"There is a little bit more fear from residents," she said about increasing traffic to the island. But she noted that locals are ready to embrace visitors.

She posted guidelines on the island's tourism website for visitors to consider but also said there have been many calls from people inquiring about how to behave on the island that will endear them to locals and keep everyone safe.

Harkema said, so far, more bookings have been made for later in the summer. Also, she said visitors in the early days of Phase 3 tend to be younger, perhaps because they are less worried about the virus.

"It's still pretty quiet, but it is picking up," she said, adding that's she's feeling positive about the summer ahead for the island and tourism.

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