The South Island Prosperity Partnership’s latest data on the region’s economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic shows troubling numbers. Hospitality and tourism sectors have been hit hard and unemployment in Greater Victoria is at a historic high at 10.1 per cent. (Black Press Media file photo)

Unemployment surpasses historic high in Greater Victoria, tourism hit hard

Hospitality and tourism sectors hurting as pandemic continues

The latest regional economic data from the past few months indicates the South Island economy has been rattled by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Greater Victoria experiencing its highest unemployment rate in history.

An Economic Recovery Dashboard created by the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) and launched in May, tracks the region’s economic status during the recovery phase of COVID-19. The data, released monthly, provides snapshot of certain indicators from the last few months such as unemployment, building permits, hotel occupancy and ridership on BC Transit and BC Ferries. The dashboard provides data that is as close to real time as possible and is supposed to help the recently launched Rising Economy Taskforce track the region’s economic fallout and recovery in the months to come.

“What we’re seeing is that the pandemic is having quite a catastrophic impact on us already,” said SIPP director of economic development Dallas Gislason.

The unemployment rate for the region hit a historic high of 10.1 per cent in May while only a few months earlier in February, Greater Victoria was reporting the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 3.2 per cent. To put it in perspective, the last time the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area’s unemployment rate peaked was after the 2008 recession at 7.4 per cent.

However, as the province enters phase three of reopening, Gislason said he is hopeful the unemployment rate will begin to decrease.

READ ALSO: ‘Depression-era’ unemployment figures could hit Greater Victoria

An indicator of particular concern is related to tourism and travel since Greater Victoria is so reliant on that sector.

For example, Gislason said the extremely low hotel occupancy is troubling as hotels are just breaking even or operating at a loss by staying open. The report from SIPP said hotels are also charging lower rates than normal which is affecting their bottom line.

“Hopefully, with some domestic travel, we can help those hotels stay alive,” Gislason said. “They’re major employers and taxpayers in the region which municipal governments need to rely on.”

Approvals for building permits are also down, but Gislason said that could be because processes and projects have been delayed due to the pandemic. Typically, the region approves just over $20 million for building in a month but right now that number is sitting at just under $4 million. Gislason said these numbers will be followed closely over the coming months in the hopes that investors have not lost confidence in the local economy.

A figure of note, Gislason said, is that the construction industry in Greater Victoria employs more than 15,000 people so if projects are dropping off, unemployment as well as household spending could be impacted, creating a ripple effect in the economy.

When it comes to ridership on BC Transit, Gislason said that anecdotally, numbers are starting to return as people go back to work or feel confident to use public transit. However, boarding numbers do rely on students and with classes remaining online for the University of Victoria and Camosun College in the fall, BC Transit won’t be returning to typical numbers any time soon. Gislason said.

READ ALSO: Study looks at feasibility of Vancouver Island abattoir

As for BC Ferries, numbers this year will likely be driven by domestic travellers rather than tourists. Gislason said he doesn’t think the ferry corporation will hit its typical numbers for ridership either.

Despite all this, Gislason said the popularity of Greater Victoria as a place to live is likely not going to change and could even become stronger as B.C. has been one of the best in the world at managing the pandemic. If more people are attracted to the region, it could drive demand on a number of things again.

In order to recover, Gislason said businesses need to be protected from complete failure and bankruptcy, especially those that rely on tourism since the border may not open any time soon. That protection lies in the hands of the government, he said. Additionally, he said diversifying the workforce to take advantage of different opportunities will be important. This could mean moving laid off workers into different sectors such as technology, local food systems or the ocean and marine economy.

“This is a temporary hit on the economy that’s painful and frustrating,” Gislason said. “But we can weather the storm and have done well so far. We have the right ingredients in place to survive and thrive.”

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronaviruseconomyEmploymentVictoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Helping others, especially those struggling with mental health issues, keeps MOD Pizza owner Jim Hayden cooking. (RIck Stiebel/News Staff)
Saanich implements single-lane traffic stretch on Prospect Lake Road along Clavert Park. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Saanich makes one-way traffic permanent on segment of Prospect Lake Road

Prospect Lake Road to close near Calvert Park Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. for construction

Lacrosse player Patrick Dodds, 19, got his start playing for the Saanich Tigers in Braefoot Park and has now been drafted to the Calgary Roughnecks for the upcoming National Lacrosse League season. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Calgary Roughnecks draft young Saanich lacrosse star for coming NLL season

Going pro at 19 is ‘surreal,’ says Patrick Dodds

Nicole Abbott and her 10-month-old daughter, Ophelia, shown here at the Metchosin Fire Hall for the Halloween events last year. Residents are invited to a drive-through version this year. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore fire halls take pandemic-safe approach to Halloween

One spooky lane among three drive-thru features by firefighters

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Jordan Jay Ward, 20, is wanted Canada-wide for manslaughter. (Calgary police photo)
RCMP: Suspicious man seen in Parksville woods resembled manslaughter suspect

Hikers say he resembled Jordan Jay Ward, wanted Canada-wide

A police pursuit ended with an arrest in Williams Lake on Highway 97 Sunday afternoon. (Facebook video screenshot)
Video catches police pursuit that ends with man kicked, punched in Williams Lake

A video of the arrest is getting widely shared on social media

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Most Read