B.C.'s 'beaten up' tourism industry wants to know when international tourists can return
VANCOUVER -- Last summer Ian MacPhee had his worst season ever.
And while the Business Development Manager for Prince of Whales whale watching tours is pretty confident this year won’t hit rock bottom, bookings that should be like a raging river are more like a trickle.
“We’re all feeling pretty low and pretty beaten up at this point,” MacPhee said.
On Monday, as Ottawa officially announced its first step to reopen the Canada-U.S. border since March 2020, MacPhee couldn’t help noticing what was missing.
“We’re really happy with the first step, but we need the second step to be quick on the heels of the first step,” he said.
That second step would be a plan to allow Americans and other international tourists to return, bringing a much needed boost to B.C.'s economy.
Typically, MacPhee said, Prince of Whales would be running up to 21 trips a week on its three high-speed catamarans.
So far this season, they’re lucky if they get six per week.
“It’s a very very very very slow start,” he said.
Walt Judas, the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., said while he wasn’t surprised by the federal announcement, he too, thought it was lacking.
“We don’t have a sense of the timelines, we don’t know what other criteria (other than the 75 per cent fully vaccinated metric) they might be using,” Judas said.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday she understood the frustration “of people who want certainty” and promised Ottawa would be transparent about the next steps, while giving few details.
Judas added: “Our fear is if the border doesn’t open until the fall or at the very least late summer, we will have missed a second straight year. And that’s going to hurt more operators.”
According to the association, tourism generated $22.3 billion in 2019. Last year’s final number, according to Judas, was less than $7 billion.
And Judas pointed out intra-provincial travel and domestic travel within Canada doesn’t make up for the 6 million Americans that visit B.C. every year.
Back on the dock, MacPhee pointed out the relaxing of travel restrictions for Metro Vancouverites which allows them to venture to Vancouver Island and the Okanagan, represented a sort of double whammy for his business, because so far there are few tourists coming in their wake.
Still, he said he’s choosing to be optimistic that Monday’s announcement will be followed by step two, three, then eventually, the finish line.
“I think we’ll have a modestly successful summer,” MacPhee predicted. “It won’t be like a normal year by any means.”