Victoria’s tourism sector sees staggering losses during COVID-19 summer season

Victoria's tourism sector sees staggering losses during COVID-19 summer season

Summer is the busiest season for the tourism sector, but this year, the industry saw significant losses instead.

SpringTide Whale Watching, located in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, saw ridership down 94 per cent this year compared to previous years.

“We have five vessels. We’d expect them all to be running multiple times per day,” said Ian Roberts, fleet captain. “As a comparison, this year, we generally have been running one, maybe once a day.”

Border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of international travellers is the reason behind the drastic drop in revenue.

“Now, we’re seeing many people from Victoria, Vancouver, B.C. as a whole, and still there’s people coming in from Alberta, Ontario,” said Roberts.

However, he noted, “the numbers will never compare to when you’re open to the whole world.”

Business was down 60-70 per cent in the tourism sector during the 2020 season. Hotels, resorts, restaurants and pubs did OK during August and September, said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria. But the businesses hit hardest were those geared towards international travellers, like tour operators or experience providers.

“To expect local residents to sustain a large city like Victoria that has dozens of conventions a year, international tour series, business from 14 to 15 countries and a large cruise ship business, it’s just not possible,” explained Nursey.

“We saw a lot of Canadian travellers because that’s all we were allowed. And they’re more independent, they know the region already, so they don’t need an escorted tour,” he added.

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours saw revenue decrease 88 per cent. Normally, they have 14 horses working in the summer. This year, they had six.

“There’s just no tourists,” said Donna Friedlander, owner-operator of the business. “People [aren’t] able to cross the border. Those are the people that usually spend more in Victoria.”

Most of their customers were from the Lower Mainland or up-Island, Friedlander said, adding she is grateful to the local community for the support.

About 80 per cent of Tally-Ho’s revenue comes from the summer season and that’s what gets them through the winter, when they’re not operating. This season, however, they only made 12 per cent, so winter will be challenging.

“We’ve got a little bit of money stored up,” said Friedlander. “We’ve got enough hay for horses through winter, which is great, but it will be a struggle to continue to make the basic cost that the herd requires every month.”

It’s going to be a lean winter, Nursey said, but he is optimistic for next year.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he explained. “We know we’re incredibly well poised for recovery, we just need to get there.”

Despite the staggering losses, some operators are optimistic the holiday season will make up for some of the revenue lost during the summer.

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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