British Columbia

Vancouver Island's tourism industry faces an especially long road to recovery, officials say

Vancouver Island's tourism industry was the first to be affected by COVID-19 and will likely be the last to fully recover, says Destination Greater Victoria's CEO, whose group is working on an 18-month plan that aims to keep as much of the industry intact as possible.

Operators are working on an 18-month plan to survive until end of next summer

The Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria closed its doors on March 25 due to COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

At the Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre near Campbell River, B.C., May is usually a busy month. 

"Normally we have 70 employees and 150 kids doing activities all over [the park]. Weddings on the weekend. Tourists coming through," said president Jamie Boulding.

This year, the buildings are quiet, the students are back at home, and all international travel groups have cancelled their upcoming summer trips due to COVID-19.

"We realize how bad it is in many parts of the world and how lucky we are to be here," Boulding says. "[But] it's a bit of a different world, for sure."

It's a common refrain for tourist operators on Vancouver Island. Paul Nursey, the CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, says the Island's tourism industry was the first to be affected by the COVID-19-induced slump, and will likely be the last to fully recover. 

His group is working on an 18-month plan through to next summer that aims to keep as much of the industry intact as possible, including reaching out for more government support and assistance.

"It's really about making sure [those government measures] can actually help us back to recovery and are not just there in the short term. Otherwise, I can't see how our small- to medium-sized businesses are going to last until next summer," Nursey.

Physical distancing at Swan Lake in Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Part of that long-term plan will include encouraging Island residents to explore their own backyard. 

Randy Cunningham, board chair of the Southern Gulf Island Tourism Partnership Society, says it could be analogous to British Columbians supporting shuttered local restaurants by ordering take-out. 

But Cunningham is also realistic about what locals can do to help tourist operations.

"A lot of people have lost income these days. I'm not too sure how much travelling people have when they're still trying to survive," Cunningham said. 

He's more optimistic about next year, when people might have their jobs back and more income to spend — but even that is a best-case scenario. 

"It's hard to look forward to the next week, let alone June or July," he said,

Nursey says following previous global events like the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, SARS, or the 2008-09 global recession, the tourism industry was able to bounce back. 

"This is a complete worldwide mandated shutdown of this sector … I'm afraid it's going to be a very, very long haul back."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca

With files from On The Island, All Points West

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