VANCOUVER -- Ever since the provincial ban on non-essential travel was lifted, BC Ferries has seen an increase in passengers.

“We’ve added more sailings on the major routes because we’re seeing the increase in demand now that the travel restrictions have been lifted,” said Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for BC Ferries. "We do expect a busy weekend.”

The increase in passengers did catch a few travellers by surprise Friday morning.

“This is quite something,” said Dorthy Pitt, who was heading home after a weekend in Whistler. “This is back to the way the ferries were before for summer.”

Josh Cockcroft and his friend Zoe Pearce ended up missing the ferry they wanted to take, though they only had to wait for one sailing.

“So really, that’s not bad at all,” said Pearce.

Cockcroft said he's picking up his motorbike from his parents’ place on the island, and seeing them for the first time in months.

“Really excited to head out there,” he said. "Lots has changed over the last few months so it’s going to be good to see them again.”

BC Ferries is still limited to 70 per cent of their regular passenger capacity due to the pandemic.

“That’s a COVID restriction from Transport Canada to try to encourage physical distancing,” said Marshall, adding that BC Ferries is allowed to use 100 per cent of the vehicle deck space.

She also explained that they’ve added some promotional fares for off peak times on the Vancouver and Vancouver Island routes.

“It gives our customers a break, a discount, which is great for our customers and then it also helps shift some of the traffic away from the more popular times to the less busy times and that frees up more space in the popular times,” said Marshall.

She is also reminding customers to make reservations if they want to travel at a specific time. Marshall said there is already an uptick in bookings, with some of the more popular routes "fully subscribed" for this weekend already.

The hotel industry is also starting to see an increase in bookings.

“It’s chock-a-block full,” said JJ Belanger, general manager, Crystal Cove Beach Resort. "It’s like Tuesday Dr. Bonnie (Henry) flipped the switch and everybody decided to come to Tofino.”

He said his resort is fully booked through to September.

“Today the resort looks like it does on August long weekend,” he said. "We’re going to have a phenomenal summer.”

But it’s not the same story across all hotels, in all destinations.

“We have destinations that are very busy and the phone is ringing and we have many destinations that are not,” said Ingrid Jarrett, the president and CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association.

She said hotels are booking up in some of the smaller vacation spots, including central Vancouver Island, but that there's plenty of room in major tourist destinations like Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler, which normally see an influx of visitors from outside B.C.

“We as a province are sitting at about 30 per cent occupancy,” said Jarrett. "Two years for this coming weekend we would be at 75 to 90 depending on where the destination is.”

She said part of the struggle for the bigger destinations, is they depend on business functions and international travel that are still restricted.

“Tourism and hospitality has suffered more greatly than any other sector,” said Jarrett. "We have a long way to go.”

On top of waiting for customers to return, is trying to find adequate staffing.

“We are experiencing the most difficult labour shortage on record,” explained Jarrett.

She hopes students, seniors, anyone looking for work will consider returning to or trying out the tourism industry. ​