British Columbia

B.C. tourism communities looking forward to welcoming visitors ... eventually

Dr. Bonnie Henry said her target is mid-June or July to allow for more travel around B.C. and leaders of these tourist towns say they are happy to wait rather than rush.

'Now is not the right time,' says Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott

A rock climber at Smoke Bluffs in Squamish, a municipality internationally renowned for its recreational activities which draw thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and tourists every year. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

British Columbians have done a solid job flattening the COVID-19 curve and the mayors of popular day-and-weekend trip destinations would hate to see some of that hard work go to waste because someone couldn't wait to climb a cliff or picnic at an alpine lake. 

The Sea-to-Sky communities of Squamish and Whistler are enticing spots for city slickers seeking fresh air and wide open spaces during the current health crisis and while their leaders look forward to welcoming people from Metro Vancouver soon, they say they would rather not rush it.

"We are really asking other folks to stay away until Dr. Henry gives it the go ahead," said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott on The Early Edition Friday. "Now is not the right time."

B.C. is currently in Phase 2 of the government's economic restart plan after initially closing all non-essential services and businesses due to the virus. Phase 3, which begins in June as long as transmission rates remain low, will see hotels and resorts reopening.

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said he is looking forward to having British Columbia visitors come play in the resort community this summer. (Christer Waara/CBC)

In a Thursday news conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the province is "watching very carefully right now" to see if it will be safe to encourage local travel and tourism by the middle or end of June or possibly July.

"We are looking forward to having Metro Van people in our community again, we miss them," said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton, also speaking on The Early Edition.

Crompton said he hopes, when they have the green light to do so safely, that British Columbians will take advantage of the fact global travel is still restricted and visit places like Whistler that are often packed with international visitors.

Elliot said over 800 jobs in Squamish and $95-million in annual revenue are due to visitor spending, but even still she is asking that this year visitors "hold off a little bit longer" before packing the car and coming up.

A cyclist taking advantage of one of the many trails available in Squamish, B.C. Mayor Karen Elliot says when the community is open to receiving visitors, there are a wealth of outdoor activities for them to do that can help make physical distancing from others easier. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

She said, for the time being, she would prefer local businesses serve locals which gives them a chance to practise new health and safety protocols so they will feel more confident serving out-of-towners and visitors can feel confident those protocols are in place.

And both mayors agreed that when people return, it won't be the same.

Their advice for visitors when they do come is to shop for groceries at home, pack hand hygiene kits for the road and make online reservations for activities like the Sea-to-Sky Gondola.

"I don't think we are in an era where you can now just get in your car and go where you want to go," said Elliot.

People planning on visiting Whistler or Squamish when they are permitted to do so would be wise to reserve activities online ahead of time, says Squamish mayor. (Tara O'Grady)

Throughout the province, communities dependent on summer tourism are waiting with bated breath to see what this season brings.

In Port Renfrew, on the west coast of southern Vancouver Island, locals were trying to keep people out of the community during the Easter long weekend but now are hoping they will start to come back.

"Hopefully, the parks will be full and hopefully the traffic will be coming into our area," said Karl Ablack, a committee member with the Port Renfrew Recovery Task Force.

Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island depends on summer traffic to nearby provincial and national parks, including hikers headed to the popular West Coast Trail, to bring in revenue for local businesses. (Google Street View)

Ablack said local businesses are "chomping at the bit" to make some money but are taking the reopening process slowly and with "cautious optimism".

In the Okanagan, Tourism Kamloops surveyed residents this week to see how they feel about the reopening process and what they would like to see as restrictions loosen.

According to the most recent information available on the Tourism Industry of B.C.'s website, the industry generated $20.5 billion in revenue in 2018.

With files from The Early Edition and On The Island

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