Victoria tourism operators sound the alarm for survival

Victoria tourism operators sound the alarm for survival
WatchThis time of year is usually the start of the busy tourist season. But now there are no tourists, and the companies that rely on them are struggling. As Mary Griffin reports, they are all appealing for help.

The sound of laughter is welcome to the ears of Tom Benson, CEO of Wildplay Elements Parks.

“I’m really excited to see everyone in the park today,” Benson said.

Wildplay just reopened its two Vancouver Island locations in Colwood and Nanaimo. While the rope ladders and zip lines seem busy, it’s a far cry from what he hoped for this season.

“We’re probably down 85 per cent over last year, from the point of view of our first week of operations in the year, so quite, quite substantially,” Benson said.

By mid-June Victoria’s Inner Harbour is normally bustling with tourists. But this June, the boats that should be jammed with people going to see whales are tied up, and the concourse is empty.

Ian MacPhee, comptroller for Prince of Whales whale watching company now only sees a few people.

“Altogether the amount of people I can see today is under 20, and there should be hundreds and hundreds,”  he said.

MacPhee said the company will survive as its the largest whale watching company in Victoria, but added many others won’t

“We have to be ready to come back in 2021. If we don’t save these jobs, and therefore, save these companies, there won’t be anything to come to in 2021,” MacPhee said.

At his weekly news conference on Wednesday, Premier John HOrgan said the provincial government says it’s trying to fill the tourism gap by focusing on a marketing campaign to get British Columbians travelling.

“I do believe that a marketing plan is critical and a sense of comfort and peace and safety is critical within the travelling public.”

But, the CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, Paul Nursey, said the industry needs much more than that.

“The whole industry is essentially teetering on the edge of collapse. And so to rely on a marketing campaign to make us feel comfortable about travel is I think incredibly naive,” Nursey said.

“The last three months have been brutal,” said Bill Lewis, the chairperson of the Greater Victoria Hotel Association.  He said the hotel industry is in dire straits.

“Obviously, and unfortunately, as well, because we’ve had essentially zero or next to no revenue for three months. We’ve been maintaining the number of staff we can but I can tell you that every single hotel out there, has lost a lot of money in the last three months.”

Lewis said the industry would like to see programs such as the federal wage subsidy extended, and potentially include interest-free loans in the future.

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