Whistler prepares for tourists as B.C. moves to Phase 3 of reopening plan
Hard to find workers because most seasonal staff returned to their home countries during pandemic
British Columbians will soon be able to vacation within the province as the B.C. government enters the third phase of its four-part plan to reopen the economy, Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday.
Horgan says B.C.'s relatively low number of COVID-19 cases give him confidence that it's safe to open hotels and resorts as long as everyone follows the health and safety guidelines laid out by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"I think this can be an exciting summer for all of us," Horgan said. "But be mindful, this is not regular programming."
Traveling within B.C. was never officially banned during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many tourism-based businesses closed voluntarily.
Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Melissa Pace says a spike in B.C. travelers will help businesses salvage what's left of the summer season.
"It's exciting for us," she said. "We're primarily tourism based and it's important for us, whether it comes locally, regionally or throughout the province, we'd love to see visitors return."
Vail Resorts, which owns Whistler Blackcomb, plans to reopen June 29 with new health and safety rules for hikers, sightseers and mountain bikers.
Spokesperson Marc Riddell says guests will be required to wear masks in chairlift lineups, capacity on gondolas will be reduced and the resort will not accept cash.
"We know there's a pent-up demand with people who want to get out and get outdoors," he said.
"This is the perfect place to do it but we just don't know what the crowds will look like."
Much of Whistler's workforce comes from other countries, which presents a challenge for businesses seeking new staff.
A recent survey from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce found more than 60 percent of businesses in the community laid off staff during the pandemic.
Pace says replacing those workers may be difficult because many of them were seasonal employees who have now returned to their home countries.
"We had a mass exodus the last two weeks of March when many of our businesses closed in light of the mountain closing," she said.
"A lot of the businesses asked their staff to go home because it was safer during these uncertain times."
Riddell concurs that many seasonal staff are no longer in the country.
"It's harder now to come back into the country because of the quarantine," he said.
"We're really relying on our longtime seasonal workers to come back and assist us."
When Whistler closed in mid-March, David Rogers was one of roughly 200 casual employees at Whistler Blackcomb to receive a pink slip.
Around the same time, nearly all of the employees at Peaked Pies, an Australian-style pie shop in Whistler Village, left Canada due to COVID-19.
Rogers, a ski instructor from England, says even though the village looked like a ghost town, he found a job at Peaked Pies.
"That was a crazy experience," he said. "There was nothing really going on for about a month here and everything shut down quite quickly."
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