On a cloudy April Sunday, a single Prince of Whales whale-watching boat embarked from Victoria’s inner harbour.
It’s one of only two boats that the company launched this weekend.
“Compared to pre-covid times things remain very bleak,” said Ian MacPhee, the Prince of Whales businesses development manager. “On a sunny COVID-free Sunday, we’d see 13 to 15 boats head out from just Victoria.”
Businesses relying on tourists are struggling as they prepare for the second year with no international visitors.
“The tourism sector is just absolutely devastated,” said MacPhee, who is also the chair of Tourism Vancouver Island. “You can’t possibly understand how bad this is, I mean people are selling their homes trying to keep their business afloat.”
With new travel rules restricting people from venturing outside their health authorities, tourism operators are being asked by the province to give up even more of their hard-earned bookings.
“I’m strongly encouraging all operators and business to support the order and to decline all bookings outside of their region, and cancel their out of area bookings,” said the province’s solicitor general, Mike Farnworth, on Friday.
For Victoria’s Oswego Hotel, the restrictions have resulted in a significant drop in revenue.
“In the past week or so with the new restrictions, we’ve seen a big decrease in our occupancy, there have been quite a few cancellations that have come in,” said Erin Banham, the hotel’s operations supervisor.
Banham says there’s no system that shows where people are coming in from, meaning every reservation has to be checked, one by one.
“It’s all manually done so it is quite a big workload, making sure we go through the reservations are cancelled,” said the supervisor.
So, the only customers that businesses can turn to are locals.
“Being able to see locals from Victoria and Vancouver staying within their health regions, and joining us for an amazing outdoor adventure,” said MacPhee.
“Staycations are really great,” said Banham. “If there is a restaurant in the hotel, going in and supporting that restaurant.”
Although these businesses are relying on locals to fill the gap, those in the tourism industry say it’s not quite enough and that they need government support.
“If we want a viable tourism season, we’re going to need help our local businesses going through this. One year of this was enough. Another year, is almost unfathomable,” said the MacPhee.
But even as the new travel restrictions suffocate Victoria’s tourism industry even further, businesses are still hopeful for a successful summer, including MacPhee, who says the restrictions, as tough as they might be, are better now than later.
“If we have to take a shot of bad medicine right now to preserve the future, this is definitely the time,” said the Prince of Whales manager.