posted on May 27, 2021
May 27, 2021 (British Columbia) – It’s the hidden gems, the undiscovered attractions, the rarely visited spots that can really make a vacation to British Columbia a special experience.
And, once the pandemic precautions are lifted, those are the places that can be considered for inclusion on a BC vacation itinerary, says the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia.
“It’s the small towns like Barkerville, a historic, one-time gold rush mecca, or the ranches and resorts in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, that can add a special story or anecdote to a holiday in BC”, says Walt Judas, CEO of the TIABC. They await discovery by BC-based tourists first, then others, as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually loosened.
“Tourism operators are poised to welcome visitors, and all sectors have developed extensive health and safety plans to provide for individual businesses,” said Judas. “Stringent protocols are in place for hotels, restaurants, attractions and experiences such as whale watching, golf and many others.”
But Judas sounded a note of caution, saying that many businesses will need to recruit and train workers (which are hard to find) to ensure they can deliver on the products and experiences that visitors demand. “Businesses also have other start-up expenses and logistics to deal with, so it's not a matter of simply flicking a switch.”
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
In a great example of pivoting resources to achieve a common good while complying with COVID-19 business restrictions, small ship operators in BC have launched efforts to improve shorelines around the province.
Member companies of the Small Ship Tour Operators of BC organization sent their vessels on missions to clean up shorelines, rather than stay docked during the pandemic lockdown. They did so after applying to receive funding under the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Initiative, and thus kicked off the Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI). These boats would normally be operating tours like bear viewing excursions.
In the fall of 2020, the MDRI collected and removed 127 tons of derelict fishing gear, styrofoam and single-use, household plastics along the outer coastline of the southern Great Bear Rainforest. It was the largest marine debris cleanup expedition in BC's history. A second clean-up mission took place in early May.
Over the past year, the Watermark Beach Resort in Osoyoos in BC’s South Okanagan region, took the opportunity to use the downtime imposed by the pandemic restrictions to make significant improvements and changes. They were able to reinvent their website, quickly implement all COVID protocols and procedures to stay open, refocus their marketing plans, and revamp their onsite restaurant, the Restaurant at Watermark. For instance, the restaurant was shut down in January 2021 to do the renovation work, and has been relaunched with a new name, new style, new menus and more.
The Watermark also revamped their marketing efforts, for example with special wedding and elopement packages to fit the maximum amount of guests as per COVID-19 restrictions; created special booking packages for Okanagan locals called “Bubbles in your Bubble,” which included champagne, an overnight stay and dining credit for takeout; and catered to snowbirds by offering extended stay packages.
Participation and engagement numbers have exceeded expectations for the Luv’n the Loops Passport program, by Tourism Kamloops in partnership with Kamloops This Week. The second half of the program has been launched with more prizes, surprises and contests through to June 2021. The program was launched in July 2020, and it presented a new opportunity to re-engage with residents and share the value of supporting local. Despite economic challenges, over 38 local businesses signed up for this digital program, which highlights the demand for digital, cooperative marketing programs. Participants first create a free account at www.luvntheloops.com, then visit participating businesses and scan the QR code with their smartphone camera to get a digital stamp, and then instantly receive a special discount at that business.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Even with the prospect of tourism sector re-openings on the horizon, it’s hard to ignore the economic impact of the pandemic on tourism stakeholders across BC, and across the country.
“I don't think anyone has a clear understanding of the extent to which tourism has been ravaged by the pandemic, including residents and governments at all levels,” said Judas at the TIABC. “Some communities that are dependent on tourism certainly know it, and can see how the absence of visitors is hurting their local economy.”
“But there is still a lack of awareness of these hardships, by those in businesses unrelated to tourism. That’s because some other sectors have not been impacted to any great extent, and in many ways, things look relatively normal...or as normal as they can be during a pandemic”, said Judas.
“People are still out and about and participating in many activities. It is industry's job, together with influencers such as senior members of government to declare travel is safe (when it's time to do so) and encourage people to travel and experience local attractions and other tourism activities in their own backyard, especially with borders closed.”
Director of Government Affairs, TIAC