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B.C.’s tourism sector welcomes provincial funding, hopes to weather travel restrictions

Industry leaders are worried that the province’s tourism investments may not be able to save some businesses in time.

B.C.’s major tourism and hospitality sectors say that while they welcome the funding announced during Tuesday’s budget, it may not be enough to save some businesses until such time travel restrictions are lifted, and inter-provincial and international travellers can once again visit the province.

Ian MacPhee works for Vancouver Island’s Prince of Whales Whale Watching and is also a director with the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. (TIABC).

He says the pandemic’s impacts have been nothing short of catastrophic.

“We continue to be absolutely devastated,” MacPhee said. “The hotels are at virtually no capacity, 10, 20 percent, I can tell you that as a whale watcher, our summer bookings are pretty much non-existent, still, whereas normally, we’d have tens of thousands of people prepared to go out and enjoy that activity.”   

The TIABC, BC Hotel Association (BCHA), Association of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC), and Restaurants Canada (RC) say they “acknowledge and appreciate” the province’s commitment to support tourism recover.

This includes help for major anchor attractions, as well as funds to continue the Small and Medium-sized Business Recovery Grant Program and the promise to extend the circuit breaker program in view of impending travel restrictions. 

At the same time, they say more provincial help will be needed to help countless businesses hanging on by a thread.

The province’s 2021 budget included the following allocations related to the tourism and hospitality industry:

  • $195 million to continue the Small & Medium-sized Business Recovery Grant Program,
  • $100 million to support tourism recovery including help for major anchor attractions,
  • $20 million for community destination development grants to help with new tourism infrastructure like trails and airport improvements,
  • $83 million (over three years) in operating and capital funding for BC Parks to expand and improve trails and backcountry infrastructure, add new campsites, purchase new land to expand parks, improve the Discover Camping reservation system, and support existing park infrastructure, and
  • $6 million in capital improvement grants for the Arts Infrastructure Program

Funding for tourism recovery is included as part of the province’s $3.25 billion for pandemic and recovery contingencies this year including more than $1.1 billion in unallocated funds for unanticipated recovery measures. Government has also set aside $1 billion in 2022/23 and $300 million in 2023/24 for similar purposes.

MacPhee says the devil’s in the details, “so in terms of some of the new programs, and the additions to the existing programs, we really just wait and see what the details are.”

TIABC CEO, Walt Judas, said aside from working with government to ensure that available funds flow to tourism businesses as quickly as possible, they’ll continue to advocate for further relief “to access the unanticipated recovery measures that the province committed to for situations such as the impending travel ban and ongoing border closures that have left our industry in a desperate state.” 

“We recognize that many tourism businesses may not survive absent of further support, so we look forward to our dialogue with the province in the days ahead to find additional ways to help.”

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