By Anthony Everett
It’s been about a year since COVID-19 took hold in British Columbia and its impact has been devastating in many sectors – including tourism and its 19,000+ operators across the province.
The BC Regional Tourism Secretariat and its five regional associations have decades of relationships with more than 8,000 tourism companies in the north, Cariboo, Thompson-Okanagan, Kootenays and Vancouver Island. As a trusted advisor to the regions, the Secretariat continues to place great emphasis on helping companies adapt and respond to evolving health policies and help them access support services.
Anthony Everett. Photo: LinkedIn
Since last March, the Secretariat has conducted a series of surveys among tourism companies in the five regions to gather information on the evolving impact of the pandemic and to aid government decision-making.
The overall results are breathtaking. While there have been fluctuations over the year, on average only about 17 percent of businesses were doing business as usual, about 53 percent with reduced capacity, and over the past year about 30 percent of businesses closed at some point. Since July, an average of 39 percent of companies have now stated that they have lost 50 percent or more of their sales compared to the same month last year, 2019.
In the Kooteney-Rockies tourist region, based on 976 survey responses, there were fluctuations over the course of the year. On average, only 20 percent of business said they were working as usual. About 30 percent of businesses, on average, have closed at some point in the past year due to the business impact of COVID-19. An average of 49 percent of the companies stated that they had worked with reduced capacity in the past year. As of July 2020, around 32 percent of the companies that took part in the survey each month said they had lost 50 percent or more of their sales compared to the same month last year 2019.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Secretariat set up the BC Tourism Resiliency Network, which was available for advice and support to operators, a team of experts in health and safety, human resources, finance and strategic planning, and digital marketing services. In the past year, the number of contacts between the Resiliency Network and companies was more than 28,000 – in the form of one-on-one meetings, participation in seminars, idea laboratories and support with access to federal or provincial programs.
Through this process, the opportunity for operators to share ideas, questions and possible solutions with other business owners has also been valuable – as they realize that this is a battle they are all in together. Everywhere they have shown heart, drive and innovation – in many cases they have created a new retail line or redefined their business in order to remain viable.
The demand for support for the Tourism Resiliency Network remains high – but success or impact cannot be measured in numbers alone, as each of those numbers represents a mother, father, or person whose livelihood is at stake. But when these people say that this support “offered hope” or “helped keep our heads above water,” it really underscores the importance of these efforts.
Nobody can say for sure what will develop in the next few months. Primarily, however, our continued and collective commitment will be to smooth the curve and get the vaccination program fully operational – and complete. While now is not the time to travel, we hope that summer and warmer weather will mark a turning point, some degree of relief for COVID and, with it, a more active tourism sector.
A comment from a tourism company reflects the reality for many and suggests that the key for their company is to survive long enough to overcome this difficult time, regroup and move forward. If his company is able to do this, it will ultimately be fine. And that is our hope for any company trying to find their way through this unprecedented time.
Information about the BC Tourism Resiliency Network and related resources can be found at: http://tourismresiliency.ca
Anthony Everett is chairman of the BC Regional Tourism Secretariat
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