VANCOUVER -- Tourism industry leaders in B.C. say the next five weeks will be critical to saving the summer travel season.

“I think the stakes are much higher now even than they were a year ago,” said Nancy Small, CEO of Tourism Richmond.

Around this time last year, COVID-19 cases in B.C. were hovering around 50 per day – now the province is averaging more than 1,000 per day.

According to the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., the province's tourism sector has lost billions of dollars since the pandemic began.

“What’s lost is lost, our worry is in the absence of fiscal support measures. We may not be left with a whole lot more, even when this pandemic is over,” said Vivek Sharma, chair of the association.

The provincial government is working on regulations that will restrict the non-essential travel of British Columbians outside their own health regions. These public health orders are expected to be extended through the May long weekend.

Operators of major tourist attractions such as the Sea to Sky Gondola and the popular Rocky Mountaineer train ride are planning on reopening this spring and summer.

“It’s hard to be definitive these days with what’s happening. But with vaccines rolling out, I think success is in front of us,” said Mark Southern, senior vice-president and COO for Rocky Mountaineer.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Premier John Horgan said the regulations are not designed to put more stress on an already stressed tourism sector.

“White the contrary we are working in collaboration with the tourism sector to make sure they can have a positive summer and a fall and a winter that will try to make up some of the fallback that they’ve seen as a result of COVID-19,” the Premier said.

“What are we doing with rapid testing? How will we help people who have been vaccinated, travel with more freedom than we have right now? There is a large picture to it that needs to be painted,” said Sharma.