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Whistler preparing for hard times as COVID-19 cancels international travel
WHISTLER, B.C. -- The latest COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by the federal government — barring most non-Canadian residents from entering the country — promise to hit local tourism operators hard.
Those effects will be particularly evident in Whistler where businesses rely on an influx of visitors from around the world.
You wouldn’t exactly call the resort municipality a ghost town yet — but during spring break, the village stroll would normally be much busier than it was on Monday when foot traffic was relatively sparse.
After parent company Vail Resorts decided to close all its ski hills, including Whistler Blackcomb, over fears of spreading COVID-19 — prime patio tables, usually hard to come by during sunny March afternoons, are free to be had.
Some shops and restaurants have already closed.
Expansive parking lots sit mostly empty, and hotel staff report vacant rooms outnumber the occupied ones — as many people have cancelled their trips.
"We’re here for the week but we’re going to go home early," said Andrew Lord who will return to Vancouver with his family sooner than expected.
Monday morning, they made the most of what should have been a beautiful day on the slopes by taking a few runs of a different kind.
"We are just trying to enjoy the sun and enjoy Whistler, making the best of a really tough situation right, now so we’re tobogganing," said Lord, after a short slide near the base of the mountain with his daughter.
With the new international travel restrictions imposed by the federal government, the municipality’s mayor admits there may be hard times ahead.
"We’ve been through really difficult times in the past and I believe in this community we’ll do it again this time," said Mayor Jack Compton, referencing the SARS epidemic and 9/11 as other examples of world events impacting tourism which the resort town has endured.
A lift operator, who did not want to be identified because he is still an employee of Vail Resorts, says he doubts the mountain will open again on March 22 as the company originally planned.
He told CTV News many international staff are already looking for flights home — fearing more bars, restaurants and shops will shutter soon.
As this pandemic continues to spread, the global health impacts are hard to predict, but the economic picture for the mountain town built by tourism is coming in to focus.