Clipper suspending service between Victoria and Seattle until April 2021

Clipper Navigation has decided to suspend service between Victoria and Seattle until next spring, leaving the company with only six people on the payroll.

Citing the extension of the closed border between Canada and the U.S., continuation of the 14-day quarantine policy for those returning to Canada, and overall coronavirus uncertainty, the company said it had no choice but to shut down all operations.

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“We wholeheartedly agree with the steps and health precautions taken by Canadian and U.S. government officials to date to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission through non-essential travel,” said David Gudgel, chief executive of Clipper.

“Our intent in suspending operations is to hopefully allow ample time to pass so that we may return to service next spring when travel across the border is safe and welcomed once again.”

The company has extended the suspension of service until April 30.

Gudgel said until this week, had hoped to salvage some of the summer and fall season.

“But as we saw COVID cases increase on [the U.S.] side of the border, and last week there was the extension of the 14-day self-isolation mandate through the end of August, it became clear it was not responsible any longer for us to keep the business open.”

The decision will affect one staff member in Victoria and a significant administration cohort in Seattle, as well as the maintenance crew. At its peak, the company employs about 200 people.

The frustration of having to shut down is compounded by the fact Clipper’s parent company, FRS, has resumed service with limited capacity in Europe.

“We watch the steps taken in Germany and have seen how the market has responded very quickly to the services we offer, so it’s very frustrating to see us lag behind here,” he said.

Gudgel said his biggest concern now is losing well-trained and veteran staff, some of whom have been with Clipper for more than 30 years.

Clipper’s decision came as no surprise to Black Ball, which operates the Coho car ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles.

Black Ball president Ryan Burles said while the company is taking things on a month-to-month basis, a spring opening seems the most realistic option for now.

Destination B.C., the tourism marketing wing of the provincial government, has estimated the tourism industry could lose 130,000 jobs and drop $16.8 billion in revenue as a result of COVID-19.

In the best-case scenario offered by Destination B.C., U.S. travel could start in the fall and international travel by December. In that scenario, suggested job losses would be about 75,000 and industry revenue would be reduced by $9.8 billion.

In the worst-case scenario, short-haul visitation wouldn’t start until next spring, U.S. visitation next summer and international visitation not until the winter of 2021. It pegged the job losses at 147,000 and revenue was expected to drop $19 billion.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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