By Anthony Everett, Vice Chair – BC Regional Tourism Secretariat
There is no sugar coating the fact that 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for businesses that are the lifeblood of our tourism industry. For many, it’s been a year in which they have simply tried to keep their heads above water while watching the collapse of the visitor economy and hoping for some semblance of normalcy and viability in 2021.
The BC Regional Tourism Secretariat (BCRTS) and its five regional tourism associations represent more than 8,000 tourism-related businesses which include everything from adventure tourism operators, restaurants, accommodators, to campground operators and artists.
The regional associations have a unique and decades-long relationship with tourism businesses at a grass-roots level and have established themselves as a trusted advisor. The relationship proved invaluable during provincial wildfire and flooding events in 2017 and 2018. Our Associations proved to be the only organizations that could conduct region-wide research and provide quantifiable data on the impact to operators, which in turn informed government policy and funding decisions.
In 2020, a crisis of a different kind emerged in the form of COVID-19, and again, because of the unique relationship with operators from a grassroots perspective, the BCRTS and it regional associations once again assumed an important role.
At the onset of the pandemic, the role we traditionally play as a destination management advisor shifted to one of pandemic support, response and advocacy. Over the last several months, regional associations have worked with tourism businesses to help them adapt and respond to evolving health guidelines and collect important research that has helped inform the development of recommendations and decision-making of government.
The BCRTS also established the BC Tourism Resiliency Network, to more formally support providers and through which, a team of experts in health and safety, human resources, finance and strategic planning were enlisted to provide a suite of expertise. To date, more than 1,500 registered businesses have been provided with one-on-one support.
Our governments have taken action to cushion the blow for many in the tourism sector, including providing funds to help rebuild the sector through BC’s Economic Recovery Plan - while now considering other means of support, including BC Tourism Task Force recommendations and how the Small and Medium sized Business Recovery Grant Program can be accessed by as many tourism operators as possible.
This challenge requires all of us - all levels of government, regional and local tourism and economic development agencies, to continue to work in unison to support economic recovery. It has been encouraging to see all of the various partners come together, speak with one voice, work in a collaborative manner, and put the dire situation facing the sector and businesses, first and foremost.
Now as we turn the page on 2020, there is room for optimism. Vaccination programs are starting to roll out and there will come a point when travellers will once again be looking to BC as a vacation destination.
The challenge and opportunity will be to ensure we are positioned to create safe and memorable experiences for British Columbians, Canadians and eventually, international visitors. Until we reach that point, the BCRTS and regional associations are committed to serving the industry and supporting operators in every way possible to build the sector back – together.
Anthony Everett is Vice Chair of the BC Regional Tourism Secretariat, a collaboration between five regional destination management organizations (Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association, Kootenay Rockies Tourism Association, Northern British Columbia Tourism Association, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, and Tourism Association of Vancouver Island) representing more than 8,000 tourism businesses and organizations.