With uncertainty continuing for a second COVID-19 summer ahead, the B.C. government is opening applications for a $50 million fund for major attractions and tour bus operators to keep them going until they can welcome tourists again.
The program offers up to $1 million for operations with 150 or more employees, and up to $500,000 for smaller attractions and tour bus companies. Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said applications are opening Tuesday and will be accepted until June 7 for anchor attractions such as the Pacific National Exhibition, the Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, museums, amusement parks, science centres and other visitor landmarks.
Premier John Horgan said the funding is in grants, not loans, and can be used for fixed costs such as payroll, rent and utilities that have accumulated for businesses during more than a year of pandemic restrictions.
Horgan said the relief is designed to help attractions prepare for an easing of non-essential travel. The B.C. government is preparing an announcement next week for a phased return to recreational travel that will lay out a timeline for what provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has termed “Restart 2.0.” It will start after the “circuit breaker” restrictions on indoor dining and recreational travel are lifted, some time after the May 24 holiday.
“But I want to stress for people that we set the May long weekend as a target for the circuit breaker because we need to make sure we reduce cases, we see hospitalizations go down and we increase our vaccinations,” Horgan said May 18. “We’re right on track, but we’re not out of the woods yet, and I don’t want to give false hope until we get through the weekend and we look at the data and then we’ll be laying all that out very clearly for the public at that time.”
The PNE has said it needs $8 million to survive for another year. Horgan said it and other not-for-profit operations are the main targets for the program, and the PNE is looking to the city of Vancouver for further assistance.
“We’ve seen a decline in case counts, the seven-day rolling averages are very positive, the impact on hospitalizations and acute care is very positive, so I’m optimistic that come the summer, we’re going to be having full mobility,” Horgan said.