Charles McDiarmid’s staff at Tofino’s Wickanninish Inn started calling people to cancel their reservations even as the provincial health officer had barely finished her announcement expanding COVID-19 restrictions.
On Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry expanded bans on social gatherings and strong urged against all non-essential travel within the province until Dec. 7 in an attempt to tamp down the escalation of COVID transmissions.
Given that both Henry and Premier John Horgan had singled out storm-watching in Tofino as an activity B.C. residents shouldn’t be doing right now, McDiarmid, managing director at Wickaninnish, said closing for the period was “the right thing to do.”
“You can’t get much more explicit than that about what she and her team are recommending for the welfare of all British Columbians,” McDiarmid said, “and we’re here to support the welfare of all British Columbians.”
Guests already checked in were allowed to stay, but the closure will be a considerable blow, costing Wickanninish about 200 bookings in what was shaping up to be one of its best stretches ever for late November and early December, McDiarmid said.
However, Tofino benefited from being a popular destination for local tourists over the summer and McDiarmid said their family-owned inn has “a few acorns tucked away for this potential eventuality.”
Other operators in the sector dependent on U.S. and international travel that evaporated with COVID-related border closures are faced with absorbing new restrictions without the cash reserves they usually have in a normal year.
“The effects (of COVID-19) have been disastrous,” said Kootenays-region hotelier Vivek Sharma.
Many business in the sector, “if not all,” are already on the brink of collapse, said Sharma, chairman of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.
“We don’t know if they will be able to see the spring of 2021 now, but these further restrictions, the risk of that just gets compounded even more,” Sharma said.
About 30 per cent of hotels in B.C. closed at some point during the pandemic, said Bryan Pilbeam, chairman of the B.C. Hotel Association, and he’s not sure how many were able to reopen.
And except for ski resorts, the hotels that are open, conditions have “never been worse.”
“We support the provincial health orders, obviously,” said Pilbeam, who is also general manager of the Delta by Marriott Hotel in Kamloops.
“We just hope that the residents do their part as well, throughout B.C.,” to bring case counts down and keep the restriction-period short.
Pilbeam said most hotels aren’t cancelling bookings, though they are starting to receive a lot of cancellations.
The recommendation against non-essential travel within the province isn’t an order, and Pilbeam said it is difficult for hoteliers to judge customers for what they may consider essential.
“We’re just hoping that everyone works with the same social consciousness and responsibility that we have,” Pilbeam said.
The Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna opened for its season on Thursday, just as Henry was issuing her new guidance, but cancellations had already begun to outnumber reservations since the Nov. 7 recommendation against travel from the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions, said senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall.
“Yesterday, they really cancelled, and we’re talking hundreds of bookings,” Ballingall said.
He said the resort is refunding guests with reservations before Dec. 17, but are asking those with reservations after Dec. 17 to wait and see or book for another time. They’ve already lost $4 million from the loss of Australian tourism this year.
“So, we’ve just accepted the fact that we’re going to be a local mountain (this season),” Ballingall said. “Will it be enough to keep the lights on? It’s going to have to be, because that’s what it is.”
The province established a tourism industry task force to make recommendations for actions that will help the sector survive, which Sharma said is due to report to government by the end of the year.
Sharma said financial support to give some liquidity to businesses that haven’t had positive cash flow this year is their No. 1 need from government, but they could also use some innovation around the use of COVID rapid tests to help speed up contact tracing.
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