Budget Estimates 2020: Tourism, Arts and Culture

Jul 11, 2020 | Blog, Estimates, Governance

In this session of budget estimates I continue my work from earlier in the week to draw attention to the ongoing struggles of the tourism industry.

In Question Period (Monday), I asked Minister Lisa Beare about her plans for supporting tourism operators over the next 18-24 months. In my Statement (Wednesday), I highlighted how as an MLA I lean on the skills, training and experience I gained from working for many years in the hospitality and tourism industry.

My exchange with Minister Beare on Friday (transcript below) starts with a question about a program that distributes about $500,000 per year to Indigenous groups who are working to repatriate ancestral remains and items of cultural significance. I have met privately with Minister Beare raising concerns about the program and providing ideas that I thought would improve it. Improving the program will continue to be a work in progress with the Ministry.

I follow that with a few more questions to the Minister about her plans to support tourism operators.

Friday July 10, 2020 [2:40pm]


A. Olsen:

Thank you for the opportunity. I’d like to thank my colleagues in the official opposition, the members for Parksville-Qualicum and Columbia River–Revelstoke, for giving me the time to ask a few questions in this important ministry.

I’m going to get to tourism in the tourism sector in just a second here, but there is a question, with respect, in a similar vein to the questions that have been asked previously by the member for Richmond North Centre. I met with the a few months back now, maybe a bunch of months back now, with respect to museums and the funding for First Nations Indigenous repatriations. And I see that there was yet another announcement of another $500,000 to it.

[2:40 p.m.]

I think that this is an important time. We spoke about this privately, but it’s an important time for me to put on the record the challenges that I’ve heard.

While there are a lot of Indigenous communities who receive $30,000 a year to do this work…. You’re not going to hear complaints from Indigenous communities for receiving any funding to do this work, but I think it’s important to really acknowledge on the record here how, in the grand scheme of the work that needs to be done, this money actually impacts and the fact that a repatriation of ancestors and items of cultural significance can cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When this work gets underway within an Indigenous community, there is an incredible impetus for it to continue, meaning that those communities become committed to this work. That commitment often costs numbers of other budget line items in other budgets, because once the work has started, it cannot stop. That’s part of the cultural reality once the intention is set.

I presented the ministry with some ideas about how it is that perhaps the process can be streamlined and how we can work with our museum systems here — primarily the Royal British Columbia Museum — to ensure that Indigenous communities are not starting this work with the incredible burden of having to continue it.

I’m just wondering if the minister has considered some of the other options to how this work can be funded, recognizing that many Indigenous ancestors are still in displays in museums around the world, and many of our very sacred items of cultural significance are still in museums around the world, being viewed as artifacts rather than for their cultural significance. And I’m wondering if the ministry has worked with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to clear up some of the real challenges that Indigenous people have in the province with this area.

Hon. L. Beare:

I want to thank the member for the question. I know this is something that the member is deeply passionate about. We have spoken about this on a number of occasions. But one in particular, where the member was discussing his desires to see government move forward with funding, we were able to provide the $500,000 in funding for repatriation, because we recognize that the respectful return of cultural belongings and ancestral remains is essential to the preservation and the continuation of cultures all across our province and our communities.

We know Indigenous cultures rely on this for traditions and spiritual healing and for the work of Indigenous communities that is happening. So to the member’s question specifically, I will always look for ongoing and new ways to fund repatriation, and the member has my commitment to do that. This is a priority for us here in the ministry and in government.

As the member knows, by adopting the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, we’re committing ourselves as a government — all of us — to do this work. We are committing ourselves alongside the Royal B.C. Museum, or alongside the B.C. Museums Association and our Indigenous communities to do this work together.

But it takes all of us to continue working together, as the member said, including MIR, including FLNRO and including the Indigenous communities to work together as we advance the next steps on supports. But the member can rest assured I will constantly be looking for ways to fund this work, so thank you.

A. Olsen:

Thank you for that commitment. I look forward to continuing to work with the minister on this really important and critical issue to reconciliation and very important signal to Indigenous people that this provincial government…. In addition to the very significant steps that we’ve all taken together, it’s a significant indication to Indigenous people that reconciliation is important work.

[2:45 p.m.]

Shifting gears a little here to tourism. It’s been an issue that I’ve also raised in question period. Acknowledging that in 2018 the tourism industry generated about $20½ billion — $20.5 billion — in annual revenue, it’s a substantial amount of money for our province, a substantial industry for our province. The Premier said, on the record, that the government is working with the tourism industry, working on a tourism recovery plan. The minister suggested, similarly, that she’s been listening to and working with the tourism sector.

Many of the responses to questions that I and my colleagues in the official opposition have been asking to this ministry and to other ministries have always been…. Well, the response has been: “You know, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed things down.” I’m asking this question today. There are lots of questions I could ask about tourism, but I’m asking this question today, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to that recovery.

The tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit, if not the hardest hit. It’s going to be one of the longest-lasting impacted industries in the province as well. Right now Destination B.C. is spending money on a campaign to promote B.C. tourism, aimed at British Columbia residents. They’re the only people that can support the tourism industry right now. Domestic tourism is really the only option, as the borders remain closed between Canada and the United States, and international travel is very restricted.

Look, I’ve talked with so many people in the tourism sector — I’ve got as old relationships as any in this sector — that are expressing deep frustration at the direction of the funds going to marketing when the businesses themselves have not received support. Without supporting operators, unfortunately, many businesses will just fail, and there’s going to be a significantly shrunken tourism market. What is the minister doing to support provincial tourism businesses on the supply side of the business?

Hon. L. Beare:

The member kind of asked two questions in there. He was asking about the Destination B.C. marketing funding being directed towards domestic — which, I know, is something he wants to ask about as well — and he asked about the supply side. So I’ll go ahead and answer both, in the interest of time, for the member because I know that the Green Party has to do a lot of work to get to all the different estimates.

I’ll start with the supply side. For the member, absolutely, we recognize how impacted tourism has been by COVID. They are arguably the industry hit hardest hit by the pandemic. We continue to work on a number of things with the tourism sector. We continue to work on the demand side, as the member was referencing. You know, we provided the $10 million in additional funds to CDMOs to ensure that they’re ready to welcome visitors across the province as we did move into stage 3, for example.

I’m not going to focus on the demand side. What the member wanted to know was on the supply side specifically, and I agree: we recognize that to grow and sustain tourism, you have to do both. You have to support both the demand, to generate the interest, and have the supply, the products and services, there for visitors to enjoy once they are travelling across our province. For the supply side of the sector, we want to make sure that they’re well positioned.

I’m sorry if anyone can hear noise in the background. We’re in the front of the Legislature, and there is construction going on outside. I would rather be sitting on the balcony, like the member asking the question. That seems like a much better place to be doing estimates.

Our government is taking a number of actions that do help the supply side. On the hospitality-sector portion of tourism, for example, we supported restaurants with their liquidity by ensuring that they had wholesale liquor pricing, the ability to sell liquor, off-sales. We supported their expansion of patios to increase patrons, maintaining social distancing.

[2:50 p.m.]

We launched our Tourism Resiliency Network to help the tourism businesses navigate the sea of information and supports that are out there to ensure that we actually have businesses accessing the supports they need so that they can access liquidity and remain open.

We are providing stimulus funding for organizations and communities to support tourism product. We do these through a number of funds and continue to do them for government.

The best answer to the member’s question is…. I agree. On the supply side, we are working with the sector. We have been and continue to. One of the priorities I have, moving into recovery, is on destination development. We have our 20 destination development plans that focus on the regional supply side of tourism. This has been the culmination of years of work, and this is the work we’re going to keep doing to make sure that the supply is there.

To finally answer the member’s portion of this question, absolutely. As part of the ongoing recovery process and the $1.5 billion, I definitely view a need for supply support within those requests. The tourism sector has been asking for that, and it’s something that we will be putting forward as a ministry.

That was one of the member’s questions. Then, in his big opening there, he asked a second question about Destination B.C. marketing to British Columbians. Why is the money being spent there? British Columbians can only travel across the province.

It’s really important, for the member, that we…. Destination B.C. quickly pivoted, right from the beginning of the pandemic, and moved to an Explore B.C. Later campaign to really ensure that British Columbians and visitors who are accessing Hello B.C. from all across the world knew that B.C. would be eventually open again and would want to welcome visitors but not for now.

We waited till phase 3. We’re in phase 3. We’re back to our Explore B.C. campaign. We know that the domestic market is not a silver bullet for tourism operators, but it does provide that lifeline that tourism operators need for the summer, if we can get some of that summer.

Destination B.C. did make sure they pivoted that marketing focus to a robust domestic travel program. Their research shows that resident intention to travel within B.C. continues to grow in numbers, with 77 percent of people surveyed saying they’re intending to travel this summer within their own province.

We, as a ministry, and Destination B.C. want to provide all the information available to the residents of British Columbia so that we’re encouraging dispersion across the province. People can travel far and wide, in every corner of the province, and access tourism opportunities — access experiences, if you will — that they’ve never done before. There aren’t enough British Columbians who have gone grizzly bear viewing or who do sport fishing, for example. We want to make sure that British Columbians know about all these opportunities.

We want to capture that $6.7 billion that British Columbians spent internationally on tourism. If we can capture a portion of that, we can provide tourism operators some relief over the summer.

I will try to be more succinct in my next answers. The member had a lot of questions in that one opening sentence. So there you go.

Thank you, Member.

A. Olsen:

I’ve seen the advertising. I would say that if it was directing people towards specific experiences, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, those ads are very disconnected. They’re very generic and just say explore B.C., and that’s about it.

The other aspect of it is…. In talking to community leaders within tourism communities, community leaders whose communities rely on tourism…. That might be a clearer way of putting it. The businesses in those communities are in chaos right now. Many of them don’t have the workforce that they need. Some of them didn’t know whether they were coming back or not. To market to that industry right now without providing a clear indication….

The minister continues to refer to that there is a plan. I’m not sure what the plan is. There have not been any details provided for the plan.

[2:55 p.m.]

As the member for Parksville-Qualicum pointed out, one of our businesses here, Wilson’s Transportation, has noted to her, to me and to many others I’m sure — to everybody that will listen — that every day that there isn’t a plan dealing with the next 18 to 24 months, clarity for the next 18 to 24 months…. The business owners that I’m talking to are in turmoil right now. They don’t know, because there has not been a plan that has been laid out.

That’s a real challenge. We’re marketing to businesses that may or may not be there. We’re encouraging people to travel to communities that may or may not have it open. Many people are still concerned, and the businesses are in a marathon, not a sprint. But yet we’re dealing with it as a sprint.

I’ll just move to my next question. My understanding is that tourism is guided by both the minister’s strategic framework for tourism and Destination B.C.’s strategic plan. Given the significant impact of the pandemic on tourism and tourism’s uncertain future, will both of these plans be reviewed and updated to reflect the changing realities of tourism?

Hon. L. Beare:

The short answer to the member is: yes, they will. Both the strategic framework within my ministry and DBC’s strategic corporate plan continue to be the foundation of which the work has been done in the ministry. But they definitely need to be updated.

You know, even without the impacts of COVID-19, you would want to update your strategic plans. But it’s important in light of this, of course. As part of that regular review, that would have happened. Of course, we will be doing it now to review those strategic plans to make sure that we’re supporting the sectors here in B.C.

To the member’s question, yes, we are.

A. Olsen:

Thank you to the minister for that response.

Will the minister be re-evaluating Destination B.C.’s $50 million marketing budget, given that if many British Columbians travel this summer, and many won’t because of fear and anxiety, it won’t have a significant economic impact — and calls from the industry leaders for direct support to businesses.

Hon. L. Beare:

Obviously, the marketing budget within Destination B.C. will have to shift according to COVID and what the plans are. Destination B.C. is always ongoing and updating their information and the work that’s being done within DBC. But their $50 million budget stays intact and will not be changing.

As I mentioned before to the member, I know that he’s hearing some sentiment of British Columbians who don’t want to travel, and there will be a portion that don’t. But Destination B.C.’s research has shown that 77 percent of people surveyed say they are intending to travel this summer, across their own province.

I know myself I will be. I’m looking forward to it, as I believe Dr. Henry is taking the weekend off herself to go do some exploring. In fact, I have my husband and my daughter here with me waiting for this process to finish, so we can go inject some much-needed tourism dollars into the Victoria community soon.

While there will be people who won’t want to travel, 77 percent of British Columbians are indicating they do want to travel. So Destination B.C. will be adjusting their marketing budget within that $50 million, which stays intact — to address those concerns.

While, of course, we do also have to keep our eye on our international markets and make sure we protect our spaces in those markets, because we do know those bookings are made 18 months out, usually, in general.

There is work ongoing and being done, and Destination B.C. received an additional $6 million as well for marketing from the federal government through Destination Canada. So we’ll continue to support them. We’ll continue to work with them so that they’re producing products, which they do so amazingly well — that are speaking to the need of the marketing here in B.C.

A. Olsen:

To my colleagues in Parksville-Qualicum and Columbia River–Revelstoke, just one, maybe two, more questions, and then I’ll cede the floor to you.

[3:00 p.m.]

To the minister, when will the leaders in the tourism industry here in British Columbia, the operator side, have some details in terms of how the provincial government is going to support their businesses over the next 18-24 months, noting that what we see now is not necessarily what will…? The fall and the winter are going to be incredibly hard for some of the operators, and other operators are going to be just getting going. So I’m just wondering when the sector will see the government’s plan for support on the supply side.

Hon. L. Beare:

As the member knows, we are in the process of consultation on the recovery funding, the $1.5 billion that the Premier and the Deputy Premier announced. So on top of the consultation I’ve been having with the industry up until this point, we’ve had a very specific recovery consultation. The public is weighing in. I’m continuing to meet with all the business leaders — TIABC, the RDMOs, the CDMOs. I’m continuing to meet with sector organizations, individual businesses — the entire tourism ecosphere.

One of the big answers we need as part of the ongoing — you know, what we will be doing moving into the future for tourism — is what that recovery funding recovery will look like. That’s a big portion of that, and that work is ongoing right now.

To the member, we will continue to work together. We are listening very closely to the tourism sector. We continue to hear the requests. We’ve been able to meet a number of them to date. I have a whole list here that I know the member doesn’t want to hear right now; he wants to know what we’re going to do moving toward. What we are going to do is continue listening to the sector and develop a plan that meets their needs and a path forward that meets their needs.

A. Olsen:

That’s been a consistent answer from the minister that normally I wouldn’t complain about — the minister is listening — because I think that’s a really positive thing. However, I’ve also been listening, and I’ve been hearing a very, very consistent message for maybe eight weeks now — ten weeks, 12 weeks — that the issues that…. The message has been very, very consistent from sector leaders of what’s needed to happen, what’s needed in order for support for the industry.

We approved $1.5 billion of recovery money months ago. I was in the Legislature and approved and was part of that very surreal day in the Legislature a number of months ago. So that money has been sitting there.

I recognize that the tourism industry is one industry in a number of ministries and a number of different sectors in our economy. But it’s one in which, I think, the industry leaders have been consistent. They’ve been clear. Their message has not changed. It has not wavered. In fact, the situation for them has only gotten worse over the past number of weeks.

So, again, I hope that, at some point, the minister will deliver to the industry a clear plan so that business owners — and the employees of those business owners — who are on the steps of Legislature, who are looking at what their life is going to look like, can make the decisions they need to make. Some of them are going to be making tragic decisions that they’re no longer going to exist. Others are going to be making decisions that they’re going to bear down and go for it.

I’ll just ask this question one more time, and then I will cede the floor. What is the time frame? The consultations go on. The message hasn’t changed. What’s the time frame?

[3:05 p.m.]

Hon. L. Beare:

To the member, I appreciate everything he said. You know, I could easily just say thank you and take the input. But there are a couple of things I want to say.

I don’t want to leave the impression, by any means, that we have not been doing work to date. I know the member knows we have and that we’ve been working really hard.

We continually receive requests from the industry, and we’ve been able to meet a number of the requests — for example, some of the TIABC requests submitted to support a program that encouraged B.C. workers who have been laid off to find employment with local agribusiness tourism. We heard from industry that this was an opportunity, and we developed a program with go2HR and created that opportunity to expand their job board and match up people.

Industry wanted to allow restaurants and pubs to sell liquor products, takeaway services and have the hospitality pricing. We were able to meet that. They asked for deferral of hydro bills or relief on hydro bills. We were able to meet that. They asked for deferral or relief on ICBC payments. We were able to meet that. We have a ton of work that has been done to date, and we’re going to keep doing it. Every day I talk to the tourism sector, and every single day I hear the needs.

And I know the member does too. He’s out there in his community. And I hear the need. We have the process ongoing for that $1.5 billion. That’s a key component to decisions moving forward and what will be available for the sector. nd to the member, we’re just going to keep doing the hard work. This is a sector that’s been deeply impacted, and I know he’s there alongside me in wanting to make sure we provide the best opportunities for the sector moving forward, and we’re going to do that. Thank you so much to the member for the questions. I appreciate your time.

Image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay

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