Tofino resort operators face difficult decisions during pandemic

TOFINO — Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn has been closed since November 2020.

The decision was made in the interest of the “safety of our staff, our community of Tofino and the surrounding First Nations populations,” said Charles McDiarmid, managing director of the Wickaninnish Inn.

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“We thought it was prudent and best supportive of the message of our public health officer,” he said. “[Dr. Bonnie Henry] is the expert and if she’s recommending against non-essential travel, we felt we should be in support of that.”

While McDiarmid stands behind his decision, “it has come at cost,” he said.

To support staff who have been waiting on stand-by for the resort to reopen, the inn is currently covering rent for all employees living in staff accommodation.

Of all the resorts in Tofino, the Wickaninnish Inn is the only one to remain closed.

“It feels like I’m kind of walking a lonely road,” said McDiarmid. “We’re not trying to be a martyr or anything, we’re just doing what we think is best for the community.”

The Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort re-opened in June 2020 and is currently operating at 65 per cent capacity. It will remain at a lower occupancy rate until vaccinations have been “completely rolled-out” within the province, said General Manager Jared Beaton.

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation-owned resort has kept its doors open because, “like every other business, we have bills to pay,” said Beaton.

It’s a difficult predicament to be in, said Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation tribal administrator.

“There isn’t enough government support for the amount of loans and debt servicing required for the resort,” he said. “Our nation has long been asking for a Vancouver Island bubble only, which wasn’t supported by B.C. and would have added to our comfort level.”

Many businesses are feeling the stress of a long year, said Laura McDonald, Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce president.

“All businesses in Tofino are abiding by the provincial health orders and have implemented COVID-19 safety plans according to the requirements set out by WorkSafe BC, including regular inspections,” she said. “The well being of our employees and community members remains the top priority.”

Because Tin Wis is a First Nations owned-and-operated business, eligible resort staff have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Beaton.

And with strict protocols in place, he said he feels “confident that we are doing the right thing.”

Tin Wis has not marketed or advertised its resort, they have established a touchless check-in and check-out system, rooms are not cleaned during a guest’s stay, breakfast is served as grab-and-go and the resort maintains a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who is non-compliant to their protocols, he said.

“We’re on 25 acres of beachfront property where there’s lots of room to social distance,” said Beaton.

The reality is, income needs to be generated to pay for the fixed expenses that are associated with the resort, he said.

“This is [an] extremely difficult time for owner operators who remain dedicated to supporting our local community,” said McDonald. “They continue to follow current regulations that the provincial government has set out. We could not be prouder of how our business community has faced the challenges of this pandemic.”

Tofino’s community-wide vaccine roll-out began this week, where people 18 years of age and older are eligible to receive their first dose.

Residents can call 1-833-348-4787 to book a vaccination appointment with Island Health.

McDiarmid said the Wickaninnish Inn will not re-open until at least two weeks have passed after the town has been vaccinated.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of the community until we can ensure everyone is [at least] safely vaccinated with the first shot,” he said. “I can’t deny that it’s somewhat disappointing that there are so many visitors coming for non-essential travel and yet I understand why people want to be here.”

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