Cancellation calls are flooding Tofino businesses, putting significant financial stress on the district’s economy.
The District of Tofino said businesses have been dealing with cancellations since the Cameron Bluffs wildfire started and shut down Highway 4.
Local businesses were hoping the highway would reopen soon, but at a provincial update on Tuesday, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said: “At this point, the highway would be closed for at least another week.”
The minister said the highway is slated to open to single-lane alternating traffic on June 24, with only essential travel being recommended.
Myles Beeby with Hotel Zed Tofino said this announcement has only increased the number of cancellations, going from 100 per cent occupancy for this upcoming weekend to only 10-12 per cent.
“We’re seeing cancellations as far as three weeks away at this point,” Beeby said. “So it’s looking like it’s having a major impact on not necessarily the long-term summer, but the short-term summer has ultimately really changed.”
The cancellations are causing huge revenue losses.
Beeby said some people are heeding the province’s suggestion to avoid the highway until it’s fully reopened in mid-July, but others are confused by the minister’s wording of “recommended essential travel only.”
Krissy Montgomery, owner of Surf Sister, said she is hearing similar concerns from people who have cancelled lessons all the way until the end of the month.
“Even people at the beginning of July are starting to inquire and just wonder about cancellation policies and things because people are nervous,” Montgomery said.
She added that the lack of people coming to also means a lack of work for staff, causing several workers additional financial stress.
“We have so much seasonal staff, and they are just sitting around waiting to work. A lot are ineligible for [employment insurance] just because they are either students or foreign workers,” Montgomery explained. “We definitely need tourism to pick back up.”
Tofino’s Mayor Dan Law says tourism is a major part of the local economy, adding the district relies on visitors to come to the area.
He said the province needs to clarify what it means by “recommended essential travel” so travellers know for sure if they can take the highway once the single lane opens up.
“Our economy without visitors is catastrophic. We are looking for that language, some clarity, and we are just trying to find a way to make it work,” Law stated.
In a late afternoon interview with CHEK News, the Ministry of Transportation clarified when the highway reopens to a single lane on June 24, it will be open to everyone, including tourists.
Janelle Staite, with the ministry, warned there will be delays.
“Next weekend when we have Highway 4 open, it really will enable any traveller to be on that corridor with the acknowledgement that it will take extra time,” Staite explained. “We’re just really encouraging folks to plan for that in their travel plans.”
She added the ministry understands the importance of being able to get to the west coast, especially as we move into summer.
When the single lane opens, people can expect lineups up to a kilometre in each direction, but this will be shorter than the detour route through Youbou.
Staite said the highway will remain a single lane for several weeks until the ministry can be sure the danger from the falling rocks and trees has been eliminated, adding the ministry is hoping to fully reopen the road by mid-July.
Until that happens, travel on the detour route is still open for essential use only.
Law is asking travellers to consider other forms of transportation to Tofino, including flying.
Those having to cancel their trips are being encouraged to either re-book or collect a voucher to reschedule a future trip.