The tourism industry – worth $2 billion in Richmond and $20 billion across the province – needs to be ready to restart when travellers return.
But what is needed now is help for businesses struggling to keep their heads above water during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Tamara Vrooman, CEO of Vancouver International Airport and the chair of the Tourism Task Force looking at how to help these tourism-related businesses.
The task force was struck in September, chaired by Vrooman with Tourism Richmond’s CEO Nancy Small also participating.
The provincial government first earmarked $50 million in grants to businesses in the industry, but this was doubled and $5 million was added for Indigenous tourism.
The focus of the task force was to get emergency funding out now, because many in the tourism sector rely on the holiday season as one of the biggest “revenue-earning opportunities of the whole year,” Vrooman explained.
This was especially important as the second wave of COVID-19 hit after the summer.
“Making sure we had emergency funding directly and specifically for the tourism sector was our number one priority,” Vrooman said.
They wanted the “stop-gap measures” out to the industry as soon as possible so the task force finished their work early, she added.
Tourism is a very competitive industry, Vrooman said, both domestically and internationally, so B.C. tourism businesses need to be there when people are free to travel again.
She said this funding will tide businesses over so they will be ready to do business when things start to return to normal.
Up to $45,000 in relief for tourism businesses
Tourism businesses will now be eligible for up to $45,000, an increase compared to the previous maximum of $40,000.
The task force received 160 submissions, hearing how businesses were running low on cash but still wanted to support their staff so they could be rehired when the industry rebounded.
Fixed costs like insurance and benefit premiums come due on Jan. 1 – these grants could help with those costs that don’t disappear even if revenue is down.
Furthermore, some sole proprietors are eligible for the grants as well while they weren’t covered by previous government COVID-19 relief.
In its report, the task force pointed out the loss of one tourism business in an area can have a ripple effect on the region “detracting from its overall desirability as a destination of choice for visitors.” This will also have an impact on the people living in that area.
Destination BC has estimated tourism will be down in 2020 by 69 per cent overall from 2019, which was a record year.
In its final report, the Tourism Task Force states it’s unlikely demand in the tourism sector will return before 2022.
The airport has been hit hard by the pandemic. Passenger volumes on Tuesday, two days before Christmas Eve, were at 15 per cent where they were at 365 days ago, Vrooman said.
The revamped international departure area has been ready for a few weeks but has not opened, and a new parking structure and utility building under construction was halted earlier this year.