Victoria tourism industry starting to see a hit from coronavirus outbreak

Victoria tourism industry starting to see a hit from coronavirus outbreak
WatchAs the coronavirus outbreak claims more lives in Washington state, Victoria's tourism industry takes a hit. Tess van Straaten reports.

A month today, the first cruise ship of the season will sail into Victoria — and with it, growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

That’s because two-thirds of the ships that dock at Canada’s busiest cruise port are travelling from Seattle — the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.

“A team from the CDC federally is now on the ground assisting officials from King Country with the investigation of the cases,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee says.

With nine people now dead and at least 27 testing positive for the virus in King and Snohomish counties, more than a dozen schools in western Washington closed for deep cleanings.

READ MORE: Three more cases of novel coronavirus in British Columbia, all linked to Iran

Both the Victoria Clipper, which sails to downtown Seattle, and the Coho to Port Angeles are now stepping up sanitation efforts on vessels and at terminals.

“Now that it’s in Seattle, I think we certainly are very concerned,” says Ryan Burles, president of the Black Ball Ferry Line which operates the Coho. “At this stage, I think you have to air on the side of caution.”

Read More: Some Vancouver Island school trips cancelled due to coronavirus concerns

They’re also both offering free refunds for anyone worried about travelling.

And bookings are already taking a hit.

“Is it going to be a blip?” Burles says. “Is it going to be something that lasts longer? It’s hard to know. We need to keep an eye on it.”

Ten per cent of our tourists are from Washington State, while just four per cent come from China.

But with coronavirus outbreaks also in Europe and the Middle East, the busy spring and summer seasons for one of our biggest industries could take a big hit.

“I don’t know,” says Destination Victoria CEO Paul Nursey. “We have to plan to be nimble and we’ll work our way through. I think the biggest thing is to make sure we’re not exaggerating.”

With close to 300 cruise ship calls this year — including additional sailings re-positioned from Asia due to the coronavirus outbreak there — it’s anything but smooth sailing.

This is uncharted waters for a lot of us, we have not seen anything like this, certainly I haven’t,” says Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson.

It’s not yet clear if additional health screenings will be added for cruise passengers and crew disembarking in Victoria.

“We’re working with authorities to see what protocols need to be put in place should we go to that level,” Robertson says.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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