Vancouver Island braces for a slow tourism season. (NEWS file photo)

23 to 25 per cent of Island tourism businesses expected to close for good due to COVID-19

New program aims to help as many as possible survive through the summer

It’s a “grim reality” for tourism right now on Vancouver Island, says Anthony Everett, with 23 to 25 per cent of Island tourism businesses expected to close for good due to COVID-19.

Everett is the CEO of Tourism Vancouver Island, which has launched a program aimed at helping tourism-based businesses on the Island. Everett said the program is all about trying to get businesses through a very slow summer.

”It’s a four billion dollar industry, a major employer, major economic driver for the whole island,” he said. “The whole Island is really unique in the sense that there’s very few places in Canada or in the province that are built on the tourism economy.”

RELATED: B.C. tourism seeks relief as businesses wait for COVID-19 restrictions to ease

Through a partnership with Island Coastal Economic Trust, TVI put together the Tourism Resiliency Program.

”It was really early on and we were able to change our whole organization in about a week, actually,” says Everett.”We turned it all around because the businesses we were talking to every week – their number one issue is that they needed help finding how they accessed all those government programs that were coming out at that time.”

It’s aimed at the 3,5000 tourism businesses on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast. It includes two components, the first one is pairing businesses with specialists who can consult them on how to navigate available relief measures as well as connect them with experts in finance, human resources, legal services and more. The other is a digital resource, which can be found at victrp.ca, which includes webinars and additional resources.

Right now, Everett said a big focus is helping businesses that closed due to COVID-19 concerns reopen with the proper health protocols in place.

Everett said the resources won’t be able to help businesses reach the level they would have without COVID-19, but that the idea is to help businesses survive. With many tourism-based businesses having already been closed for the fall and winter, the revenue loss associated with a slow summer will be a big hit, says Everett, with the industry rebuild expecting to take years.

“Many businesses will not open for the season, but hopefully they will survive until next year,” he says. “Right now so many businesses are dependent on U.S. visitors, international travelers…so, I mean, Island people traveling, B.C. residents traveling, those are really good things…but the only challenge will be many, many businesses – that won’t be enough revenue for them.”

RELATED: Tofino mayor urges “kindness” as tourism reopens

Tourism businesses certainly are bracing for a slow summer.

“We’ve done quite a bit of work to be able to grow business in the shoulder in the off-seasons but without summer, it’s pretty hard for most businesses to make it through,” said Blain Sepos, executive director for Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism.

Sepos said for now, all they can do is help the community access the information and assistance available to them. There’s government assistance amid the COVID-19 pandemic that some businesses can take advantage of, and ways they can alter their plans to be in line with health regulations.

Although Phase 3 may be on the horizon, it still doesn’t give a true inclination of what the summer of 2020 will look like for the area.

“What we’ve been doing up to now is we’ve really shifted our focus from marketing to visitors and encouraging them to visit now, to shifting the language to keeping us in their hearts and their minds for when it is safe to travel again,” said Sepos.

RELATED: Tourism task force creates 18-month survival strategy for Greater Victoria

He said another thing the association has been doing is promoting businesses that are open, in hopes that locals will support them. He said there’s not a dollar figure available on what the economic impact will be, but that they do know that visitors from outside of the province contribute significantly to the area’s tourism sector.

“Up until the end of Phase 3, there’s no interprovincial or international travel allowed,” he said. “So we know that B.C. visitors, they contribute… about half the visitation throughout B.C., but B.C. residents don’t spend as much money as other visitors do, so we still might get roughly half of the visitors if things go as well as planned for the rest of the summer, but they don’t spend as much money, so again it puts the businesses in a bit of a grey area.”

As far as a price tag on the economic impact, Everett says it’s too early to say.

“It’s just all too new,” he says. “There isn’t any of those projections really, other than the four billion that was pre-COVID…that’s the economic impact here on the island.”

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cloe.logan@pqbnews.com

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