Growing fears as COVID-19 outbreak causes international tourism drop in B.C.

Growing fears as COVID-19 outbreak causes international tourism drop in B.C.
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WatchInternational travel bookings are down 10 per cent in B.C. due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Tess van Straaten looks at tourism concerns.

It’s Greater Victoria’s second-biggest industry — bringing in $2 billion a year but the COVID-19 outbreak means tourism is in trouble.

“We are seeing an impact, especially with the long-haul and international travellers to B.C.,” says Destination British Columbia vice president Maya Lange. “We’re beginning to see a decrease in forward bookings, by about 10 per cent on average.”

But with major airlines like Lufthansa grounding 150 planes today and many other carriers, including Japan Airlines, British Airways and United Airlines cancelling hundreds of flights, it’s expected to get a lot worse.

“I know you have real concerns and real anxiety about COVID-19,” MĂ©lanie Joly, Canada’s economic development minister, told stakeholders at the opening of a big B.C. tourism industry conference in Victoria Wednesday afternoon.

“We want you to know as a government, we have your back,” Joly said.

READ MORE: B.C. announces 13th case of COVID-19, patient in critical condition

But she admits the outbreak could deal a major blow to Canadian tourism and B.C. businesses.

READ MORE: Victoria tourism industry starting to see a hit from coronavirus outbreak

“That’s exactly why I’m here,” Joly says. “I know a lot of people in the tourism sector are worried and they want to know what their government has in terms of planning.”

At Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, cancellations from Italy and other parts of Europe are snowballing.

But something interesting is also starting to happen.

“The magic is we’re starting to see bookings out of Ontario for Ontario spring break of people that were going to Europe that are now coming out west to our ski resort,” explains Big White Ski Resort senior vice president Michael Ballingall. 

That’s exactly what tourism officials are now banking on as they spend money and amp up efforts to attract North American travellers.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to have domestic markets and short-haul drive markets from western US continue to travel,” Lange said.

…as long as we don’t see outbreaks here.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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