It’s a “grim reality” 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 $4-billion 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.”
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,” said 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 thousands of 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.”
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.”