Like many other sectors hit hard by COVID-19, the tourism industry in the Cariboo Chilcotin is waiting, watching and hopeful to recover what’s left of 2020.
“Most businesses are looking at what it will take to get from now to 2021 because we know the rest of this year is going to be incredibly uncertain,” said Amy Thacker, CEO of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association.
Thacker said impacts are continuing and varied in the region, and added the organization is continuing to reach out to tourism operators and businesses to find out how they can help to support them.
“We began right at the beginning knowing that this was anything any of us had gone through before,” Thacker said. “We needed real-time information from our businesses to advocate and adapt to their needs as it [the COVID-19 pandemic] evolved.”
Thacker said the CCCTA sends out weekly surveys to a cross section of businesses across the region to compile weekly impact roll-up reports on its website, which will continue throughout the summer months.
“The [tourism] industry is very much waiting for that direction from the provincial health officer that the province is ready to move into phase three of restart and to allow for travel throughout the province to rebuild, and to try to recover some revenues this summer,” Thacker said.
“The need for non-traditional financing and cash injections for small business to address liquidity and insolvency is at the top of our list.”
In the meantime, the British Columbia Regional Tourism Secretariat (BCRTS) will receive $1 million in funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada to fund a new British Columbia Tourism Resiliency Network.
The long-term program is aimed at providing B.C. tourism businesses meaningful, one-on-one support to navigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, adapt and work towards eventual recovery.
The BCTRS is a partnership between five, not-for-profit regional destination management organizations including Tourism Vancouver Island, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, CCCTA, Kootenay Rockies Tourism Association and Northern British Columbia Tourism Association, Island Coast Economic Trust, Indigenous Tourism BC, Destination BC and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.
According to a recent COVID-19 Tourism Impact Roll-up Report commissioned by the BCRTS across its five regions, 21 per cent of tourism businesses report they will become insolvent, with an additional 37 per cent stating they are unsure if they will recover.
On average, businesses in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast saw a 53 per cent decrease in revenue just in the month of April, compared to the same month last year.
Tourism jobs, meanwhile, have been severely impacted in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region with 6,700 employees laid off or not hired for seasonal work.
Andre Kuerbis, chair of the CCCTA, said the investment is timely and critical.
“We need to be focused on the supply side challenges of our sector and be providing critical support to ensure that our businesses survive to need marketing,” Kuerbis said.
The resiliency program already has 1,100 B.C. tourism businesses collectively enrolled in regional tourism resiliency programs, Kuerbis said. Registration is available at http://tourismresiliency.ca/ccctrp/.
Thacker added the CCCTA is working collectively to support regional tourism businesses and not-for-profits as part of the program with hands on guidance and support.
“Working together to maximize collective expertise and resources and leveraging the local knowledge and long-standing relationships we’ve held in our regions for over 60 years to support our industry, residents and communities is the top priority for our team,” she said.
Overall, she said the overall mood among tourism operators in the region is “waiting.”
“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “Some are hopeful, some are not, but the tone broadly throughout the region is expectantly waiting. We are all navigating this together, and celebrating where we live, and celebrating where we are.”