Struggling Okanagan tourism industry cautiously welcomes vaccine passport

·2 min read
A man wears a face mask while walking down Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 9. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)
A man wears a face mask while walking down Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 9. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran is welcoming the B.C. government's vaccine passport plan as a chance to hold back a wave of COVID-19 infections and more drastic health restrictions.

"This was a surprise but pleasant one, I'm happy the government is going this route," Basran told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"Even until as late last week, in terms of conversations that I and other municipalities were having with the government and Interior Health, they really didn't want to go down the vaccine card route."

On Monday, the province announced a plan to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone who wants to attend a concert, sporting event, movie, restaurant, nightclub, casino or fitness class.

Basran says the twin crises of COVID-19 and wildfires have been a struggle for the Okanagan's tourism and hospitality industry.

He argues the plan is a needed measure to convince vaccine hesitant residents and vaccine opponents to get vaccinated.

"The majority of businesses are happy with the step, that a small minority of people won't be controlling the majority ... because they refuse to get vaccinated."

New vaccine data provided by the B.C. government shows the province's fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is primarily a pandemic among the unvaccinated.

Vivek Sharma, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., has long supported vaccine passports as a measure to reopen businesses safely.

"We've been always supportive of some kind of a proof of vaccination plan to allow those people who have been vaccinated to travel freely and, you know, use all services and amenities across the country in a free manner," Sharma told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

Sharma said increased infection rates and other disruptions have created a bleak summer tourism season this year.

"It's tough. You need to remember that a lot of businesses, they make a majority of their financial success through these two, three months," he said.

Sharma is calling on governments to provide more financial aid to the tourism sector, including breaks on property taxes and utility bills.

Basran says the province and industry also needs to address the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfire crises on B.C.'s tourism reputation.

"Certainly, it's damaging, you know, to the brand," he says. "This is going to be a collective effort ... right across the province."

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