Butchart Gardens to close for two weeks

Victoria’s largest and most famous tourist attraction will close for two weeks in February.

Citing the need for its staff to get a break, Butchart Gardens, which is usually open year-round and welcomes more than one ­million visitors annually, will close Feb. 1. with plans to re-open Feb. 16.

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In a short statement, Dave Cowen, Butchart Gardens chief executive, said “the February holiday is additional time off to reward our wonderful staff for the hard work they have done this past difficult year. It is intended to provide some much deserved time to rest and relax because we have no idea what we will be facing in 2021.” He could not be immediately contacted for further comment.

Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey said the timing of the two-week closing makes sense.

“Travel is currently discouraged and restricted. We are all abiding by health advisories and sacrificing to bend the curve back down again,” he said. “If there is a time to do this, it is now. Once more ­vulnerable British Columbians are vaccinated we are hopeful for a logical and gradual re-opening of travel. It is prudent to have rested and rejuvenated staff to welcome guests at that time.”

Nursey said Butchart Gardens is showing that it is an employer that cares about its staff.

Butchart has been open through the pandemic, though some of its services such as the annual historical display, Blue Poppy restaurant and carousel have been closed.

Butchart, which has managed to keep 225 of its employees working through the pandemic, is one of the major tourism companies unable to access provincial government relief.

While the province has offered $150 million in aid to the industry, it left some of the biggest players — including ­Harbour Air, Wilson’s Transportation, hotels, whale watching companies and attractions such as Butchart — unable to get help as they employ more than the province’s cutoff of 149 ­employees.

Those companies have warned if they don’t get relief, they might not be around in the same form when the province needs the industry to start recovering from the economic devastation of COVID-19.

Nursey said he didn’t think Butchart’s closing was a ploy to draw attention to the plight of larger companies.

“I believe it to be a good faith initiative to support staff well being,” he said.

“As the CEO of the tourism board, what I can communicate is that there is currently no business model for any tourism-related business to re-hire or engage new staff. So existing staffing complements are going to be what most businesses work with for much of the year. Employees are very tired and very stressed working in such an uncertain environment.”

Nursey said he’s hopeful the tourism industry and government can come together to work on a recovery plan.

“We don’t see any attention on that yet and it is disheartening to everyone involved in the visitor economy,” he said.

Butchart normally employs about 290 people at this time of year and ramps up to 600 during peak season.

It intends to extend all valid 12-month passes by 15 days to account for the number of days it is closed.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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