Over the past few months, I have heard clearly how COVID-19 is devastating the visitor economy (tourism sector) in British Columbia.
I know the provincial government has heard the same messages. I’ve shared documentation from business leaders outlining the desperate situation of the industry in British Columbia and the immediate and long-term needs.
Hotels, restaurants, attractions are shuttered, business owners are on the brink of bankruptcy and hundreds of thousands of workers in the tourism industry are unemployed. For many small tourism businesses, this isn’t just a job but a livelihood, lifestyle and way to raise a family, all of which are currently in jeopardy.
Tourism contributes $8.9 billion to our provincial GDP and employs 161,500 people in every corner of our province, or it did last year.
To-date the provincial government has offered little to the struggling tourism sector and lack a clear vision to revitalize a sustainable visitor economy.
Industry leaders were left off the economic round table, and the pleas to assist tourism operators where they need it most have been ignored.
The approach of the government so far has been to bolster marketing budgets. So, Destination BC is now running an advertising campaign, targeted to British Columbians, to promote domestic travel within our province.
When you see an ad, it feels really out of touch with what is actually going on. Many people are still hesitant to travel, the industry is full of uncertainty, and it’s difficult to plan trips with so many operations closed and businesses unsure about the future.
As I highlighted in my question to the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, in Question Period, while British Columbians normally make up around 50 per cent of visitors, we account for less than a third of spending. So even if we double our domestic travel and spending, operators will, at best, only realize half of what they make each year while facing new and additional costs.
The dramatic decrease of travel in 2020 will impact the sector over the next 18-24 months. Through this fall and winter it is likely that up to a quarter of our tourism businesses will close for good.
That is why industry leaders have been imploring the province to support the businesses directly so they can stay in business and keep their workers employed. To provide a balanced approach to recovery that includes supply and demand and supports people first. Without our tourism businesses we have nothing to visit and nothing to market.
In her response to my question, and follow-up questions from the official opposition, the Minister states that she continues to listen to, and work with, leaders in the tourism sector. However, when will the Minister act? When will she invest in keeping businesses solvent, workers employed and families together instead of burning resources on generic marketing campaigns?
For the tourism industry this is not a sprint that can be solved this summer, it’s a marathon that starts with taking steps now and unfortunately, we are falling way behind.
Adam Olsen is interim leader for the BC Green Party and MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.