Empty harbours, boarded-up shop windows and desolate landmarks paint an ominous picture of tourism in Greater Victoria, but a group of business leaders has been busy creating a long-term survival plan for one of the region’s most vital industries.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, a ‘task force’ of industry leaders has released rescue and recovery priorities for Greater Victoria tourism.
The task force is comprised of 12 managers, owners and CEOs of the city’s biggest hotels and tourist attractions, including Dave Cowen, CEO of Butchart Gardens; Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria; Brenda Ollis, general manager of Chateau Victoria Hotel and Randy Wright, president of Harbour Air.
While the group collectively has 400 years of experience in tourism and hospitality, it’s the first pandemic facing the region, curtailing tourism completely and threatening the short and long-term survival of all kinds of businesses and jobs.
In a document outlining their first phase of priorities, the task force estimates that 90 per cent of the full-time tourism workforce has been laid off and roughly 20,000 jobs lost. They also estimate that, in total, COVID-19 could cause a $1.4 billion loss to the local economy and $375 million in projected tax revenue lost over the next 10 to 14 months.
With the numbers before them, the group set out to form an 18-month survival and recovery strategy for Greater Victoria tourism – seeking out policy and financial support to ensure the industry’s survival as the pandemic continues. They came up with five requests for government.
First, the task force is asking the federal government to extend into 2021 the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) – which currently has an expiration date of June 15. The group says extending the emergency business subsidy will support businesses with reopening costs and maintain workers and operations into the coming year.
The task force is seeking a three-week extension to the temporary layoff period, which currently dictates that severance must be paid after an employee is laid off for a maximum of 13 weeks.
The third request is for interest-free loans, grants, subsidies or other financial supports, and the fourth asks for support for COVID-19 safety-oriented and physical distancing measures.
“There will be incremental expenses for personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, staff costs for extra cleaning, signage, and education materials,” writes Tourism Victoria. “There will need to be clear guidelines from health authorities to ensure businesses can meet requirements.”
Lastly, the group asks that Destination Canada and Destination BC marketing funds are redirected from international source markets and used at the community level for the short-term future.
“Because international borders are closed to non-essential travel for the foreseeable future, it does not make sense for Destination Canada and Destination BC to continue to market internationally,” the group writes. “Instead, these funds could be re-dedicated to domestic source markets, promoting hyper-local tourism and ‘staycations’ within Canada.”
The task force will update its priorities as recovery evolves over the coming months.
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