The provincial and federal governments must step in with financial relief to prevent a complete collapse of the visitor economy, a tourism industry group in B.C. is warning, saying that businesses are losing millions of dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tourism Industry Association of B.C. said about $19 billion in revenue a year is generated through 19,000 tourism-focused businesses in the province, but border restrictions and other measures introduced to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus mean many of those businesses may not survive.
The organization wants an emergency contingency fund to help operators mitigate the impact of the pandemic, and suggests senior levels of government temporarily suspend land tenure fees and employer health taxes, and provide loan payment relief.
Association CEO Walt Judas said tourism operators will need help not only through the crisis period but also with recovery efforts in the aftermath of the pandemic.
"We are experiencing massive layoffs in the industry, cancellations, virtually empty hotels and restaurants and there is no way for small businesses to sustain themselves without some kind of financial assistance," said Judas.
He said the industry is the third largest business sector in the province.
Typically, businesses on the West Coast would be making money at this time from cruise ship passengers and international visitors to conferences, outdoor resorts and other events.
On Monday, travel restrictions put in place by the federal government banned tourists from outside Canada and the United States from entering the country.
The B.C. Hotel Association said its members are facing huge layoffs as people back out of bookings.
"Hotels throughout B.C. are experiencing cancellations of up to 80 per cent of business on the books," CEO Ingrid Jarrett said.
On Tuesday, the Whistler Blackcomb resort, which attracts two million visitors a year from around the world, said it was closing its ski hills for the remainder of the season.
Judas said tourism operators are evaluating the situation daily and he has not come up with a dollar figure for relief efforts. But he said the effects will be wide-reaching.
"There won't be an area within the entire province for tourism that is unscathed," he said.
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