William R. Bennett Bridge across Okanagan Lake, one of the tourism destinations hit hard by two years of pandemic restrictions. (Kelowna Capital News)

William R. Bennett Bridge across Okanagan Lake, one of the tourism destinations hit hard by two years of pandemic restrictions. (Kelowna Capital News)

B.C. tourism industry hoping spring COVID-19 thaw continues

Rebuilding workforce, international visitors a big job

The removal of COVID-19 capacity restrictions is a positive sign for B.C.’s struggling tourism industry, but there is a long way to go on recovery, the industry association says.

B.C.’s 2022 budget continues pandemic support for tourism operators with a $25 million relief fund, but the big jobs ahead are rebuilding B.C.’s tourism workforce and marketing, says Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Association of B.C.

“It’s difficult to say whether $25 million is enough, certainly after last year and what we experienced,” Judas said Feb. 22 after going through Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget presentation. “It may not be enough depending on what happens this year. If we revert back to more measures or more restrictions and roll back some of the progress that we’ve made, then most definitely businesses are going to need help, whether it’s the closure of the relief grant or more for the small and medium-sized business recovery grant.”

The B.C. government’s spending demands are not letting up this year, with a $6.6 billion increase in deficit spending forecast to repair and strengthen flood-damaged roads and communities, as well as growing health and child care. That’s a concern for all businesses, says Bridgitte Anderson, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

“The budget lacks financial details to support many of the announced initiatives and does not address needed tax and regulatory reform, especially for our small and medium businesses,” Anderson said.

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Judas noted that tourism recovery depends on restoring air routes for international travel, and B.C. finds itself in a tough competition.

“I think what we’d really like to see is more specifics around the marketing efforts, whether it’s money for Destination B.C., Indigenous Tourism B.C., the regional and community destination marketing and management organizations,” Judas said. “Are there sufficient funds for them to market in a more ambitious way, because there’s so much competition now. The world is opening up and everybody’s in the marketplace.

“If things progress as they are, we should do fairly well, but it takes a long time for sectors such as meetings and events to ramp back up and attract the international visitation.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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