The annual winter slowdown in tourism is adding to the chill created by the coronavirus pandemic for Vancouver Island businesses that are dependant on visitors.

Tourism operators are struggling to survive, with many just getting by with the assistance of government aid programs.

Tourism Vancouver Island CEO Anthony Everett says recent announcements of new extensions and enhancements to assistance programs are good news.

“A number of things happening right now, and it couldn’t come at a better time as we head into winter with new restrictions.”

Everett says the recent spate of government announcements is welcome news for tourism businesses, bit one, in particular, should be very helpful.

It will offer small interest loans up to a million dollars for some businesses, if qualified, something Everett says the tourism industry has been hoping for as a way to “survive into next year when vaccines come available.”

He says they are still working to understand all of the criteria that businesses need to qualify for that program.

Prior to the election, the provincial government announced a number of supports. Everett says they are now working with the government to understand how they can be enhanced.

An industry task force report is expected to be in the hands of the Premier soon, possibly as early as next week, and Everett says there is $50-Million in assistance that is attached to that report.

Tourism is a major part of the Island’s economy and a big employer, and Everett says business has dropped an average of 50-percent throughout the pandemic. However, at its lowest point business was down 85-percent and he estimates that it is currently about 70-percent lower.

He says businesses are feeling very frustrated with the situation, and a program created by TVI to advise and connect them to government aid now has about 350 signed up with more contacting them all the time to register.

The Vancouver Island-Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program helps visitor dependent businesses find and get access to assistance programs.

It has been extended until the end of March and Everett hopes to see it remain in place throughout 2021.