Newcastle Channel and Saysutshun Newcastle Island in Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

B.C. reopening but tourism facing long-term recovery, say Vancouver Island MLAs

B.C. Liberals criticize lack of planning, NDP says consultation and response happening

B.C. is reopening, but tourism operators can’t take full advantage of the summer months in a time of COVID-19.

The NDP government says it’s working and will continue to work to help the industry rebuild and recover, though the B.C. Liberals say the response hasn’t been sufficient and hasn’t been communicated well.

“Tourism is such a huge part of our economy and the outlook is unclear,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo NDP MLA.

She said the government’s focus has been on fighting the pandemic and focusing spending there, and that economic recovery is still to come.

“In every sector we have been taking our cues from the sector itself, we have not been dictating to them how they reopen safely, and we’ve been all ears on what kind of support it is that they need and want,” she said, citing patio expansions as an example.

Michelle Stilwell, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, is one of the B.C. Liberal Party’s critics for tourism and recently co-hosted a series of digital town halls consulting with those in the industry. She has criticized the NDP government for what she said has been a lack of recovery planning, lack of clarity on reopening guidelines, and insufficient financial support.

Stilwell said tourism businesses are facing cash-flow problems and could use temporary measures such as suspensions of sales tax, hotel tax and employer health tax, “just to get things moving” as consumer confidence rebuilds.

Stilwell said with the kind of decline in revenue that the industry is anticipating, tourism within B.C. won’t be enough for some businesses to survive.

“We have to have a very strong focus on the economy and how we get these businesses back up and running and how we get people to work,” she said.

READ ALSO: B.C. Liberals criticize Horgan’s economic recovery plan for excluding tourism sector representation

Malcolmson said in her discussions with local tourism operators, she heard frustration about uncertainty of reopening timelines because it impacted marketing, but said “increasingly it became obvious” that most British Columbians wanted to keep the U.S. border closed to tourists.

The tourism Crown corporation Destination B.C. launched on Tuesday a marketing campaign inviting British Columbians to “rediscover and explore B.C. safely.” Malcolmson said she thinks Nanaimo is “going to get discovered” by a lot of British Columbians vacationing within their own province this summer.

“As long as people continue to follow those principles of washing their hands, staying home if they’re sick, keeping physical distance, then if we can continue to keep our community healthy, then people will be confident coming and travelling from elsewhere in B.C.,” she said.

While Stilwell said the pandemic has instilled fear in people and some hesitancy to travel, Malcolmson said B.C. didn’t shut down as much as other places and can potentially “bounce back” more quickly. She said the government will continue to work with partners in the tourism industry on recovery.

“We’re organizing and continuing to have sectoral meetings so that we are talking about what people need to rebuild from this,” she said. “Not just damage control for this summer, but what’s ahead.”


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