Recovery package gives tourism sector a glimmer of hope

The B.C. tourism industry did not get everything it was looking for from the province’s $1.5-billion economic recovery plan unveiled Thursday, but it might be enough to give it some hope heading into what is expected to be a dark and lean winter.

With more than $100 million for tourism businesses and marketing, a $300-million small- and medium-sized business grant program for all sectors, and the establishment of a tourism task force to work on short and long-term strategy, the industry at least felt its voice was heard.

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“Nothing was going to be enough, probably,” said Anthony Everett, chief executive at Tourism Vancouver Island. “But it’s hard not to say this is positive.”

Everett said with new spending for projects in tourism-dependent communities, grants of up to $40,000 for tourism businesses that have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a task force that will be working on the industry’s behalf, there is reason for optimism.

“We’ve been working for years to get that kind of funding,” he said. “Is it enough? Well, they have done what we asked — they prioritized tourism. But then again, we don’t have all the details yet.”

The good news is that there is money for the biggest challenge, “which is liquidity,” said Everett.

The provincial tourism industry, which last year accounted for $21.5 billion in combined revenue, employed 166,000 people and provided $1.8 billion in tax revenue, had been asking for a $680-million relief package to get it through to next summer.

Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey said he was pleased the industry was recognized.

“While it was not the package we asked for, it is clear the provincial government understands the challenging situation that is being faced, and crafted some tourism-specific solutions, for which we are grateful,” he said.

Nursey said he still needs to “fully review and digest” all the tourism-related measures announced Thursday to ensure they will make a difference. “The devil will be in the details, such as the size of businesses that qualify for various grants and don’t fall through the cracks.”

Ian MacPhee of Prince of Whales Whale Watching noted that tourism is the largest economic sector in the province, adding $100 million won’t be “anywhere near enough” to help businesses that depend on a summer season to survive. “They just won’t.”

MacPhee said tourism has been the hardest hit by the pandemic, and until borders ­reopen, all operators are fighting for a limited amount of revenue. He said one of the few positive notes he heard Thursday was that this funding is just the beginning.

Finance Minister Carole James said the relief package shows the government knows how critical tourism is, and the challenges it’s facing.

“And there’s more to come because of the work the task force is going to do,” she said. “We will have the chance to build things into budget 2021 as well.”

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