The world’s first electric commercial aircraft owned and operated by Harbour Air is seen getting ready for take off for its maiden flight in Richmond, B.C., Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. British Columbia’s battered tourism industry is poised for a strong recovery after vaccinations become widespread, but meeting that demand could be a challenge, Scotiabank’s chief economist says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The world’s first electric commercial aircraft owned and operated by Harbour Air is seen getting ready for take off for its maiden flight in Richmond, B.C., Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. British Columbia’s battered tourism industry is poised for a strong recovery after vaccinations become widespread, but meeting that demand could be a challenge, Scotiabank’s chief economist says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. tourism industry may be challenged with pent-up demand: economist

Many tourism workers changed careers during the pandemic, making it hard to fill some roles

British Columbia’s battered tourism industry is poised for a strong recovery after vaccinations become widespread, but meeting that demand could be a challenge, Scotiabank’s chief economist says.

Jean-Francois Perrault said in an interview that pent-up demand for travel and leisure suggests that Canadians who saved money while under public health restrictions are likely to spend in that sector when it’s safe to do so.

However, he warned that the industry’s capacity coming out of the pandemic may not match that demand, adding the best way government can help is by getting the virus under control as soon as possible.

“The more clarity businesses have as to how and when we’ll have things under control, the easier it will be for them to plan for the future,” said Perrault.

Perrault predicted that recovery will be strongest in popular destinations like British Columbia and Alberta, while those in the Atlantic bubble should also see a drastic shift in demand.

Members of the B.C. tourism sector said the next few months will be crucial for the survival of many businesses in the sector and they don’t expect a full recovery before next year.

Walt Judas, chief executive of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., said capacity to meet a swift rise in demand depends on the type of business.

Those that book months or years in advance, like the cruise or large conference subsector, can’t instantaneously re-enter the market, he said. And any business that depends heavily on international travel must wait for airlines to resume service and retrain furloughed staff.

Many tourism workers changed careers during the pandemic, which will make it hard for places like resorts to quickly fill specialized positions like wilderness guides, he said.

On the other hand, seasonal attractions like campsites and golf courses saw increased demand in 2020 as locals looked closer to home for getaways and should be ready for a surge.

“There is a large degree of preparation, but it’s not as easy for some of the subsectors within tourism to just flick a switch and open the doors again,” Judas said.

Wage subsidies and other government programs have been vital to most businesses’ survival. Everything from rapid testing to safe travel passports for vaccinated people should be considered as part of a recovery plan, he said.

“What is needed going forward, aside from those support programs, is a restart plan that looks at a number of moving parts,” Judas said.

A report released this month by Destination Canada predicted a long recovery for Canada’s tourism industry with potential shock waves for other areas of the economy.

The Crown corporation tasked with promoting domestic tourism found that without any major change in consumer spending habits, it would take five years for the industry to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, the number of “active” businesses — those operating with employees — in the sector declined by nine per cent between January and November of last year. Half a million people in the tourism industry lost their jobs in 2020, the report says.

When Ian MacPhee looks ahead to a possible recovery, it’s with both the weariness and relief of someone who has been fighting for his company’s survival since last year.

The company controller and business development manager for Prince of Whales Whale Watching based in Victoria said the company is doing everything possible to ensure it has capacity to meet that demand.

“We’re a beaten-down army at the edge of the battlefield, but we got there,” MacPhee said, adding that this summer will be critical.

“We have been planning, we have been conserving cash, we have been availing ourselves of all the programs out there, maintaining equipment. We are anxious and ready to go.”

Prince of Whales stopped operations for the first time in 27 years in November, after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry strongly recommended against non-essential travel.

MacPhee said he now works the equivalent of three positions and jokes that he’s added “fisherman” to his title for the amount of time he spends seeking and applying for grants and support programs.

He’s said he’s optimistic about a return but also concerned about worker burnout among those who have been able to keep their jobs. He’s also anticipating years of recovery for businesses that have to start repaying loans they took out to stay afloat.

“Until all the borders are open and planes are flying and everyone has confidence back in travel, I think it’s going to remain tough,” MacPhee said.

Randy Wright, president of Harbour Air Group, echoed MacPhee’s hesitation, noting the slow vaccine rollout could take a toll.

Tour operators and cruises are booking for 2022, not 2021, with trickle-down effects for the floatplane industry.

Floatplanes are an essential service and have continued to operate, but only at 20 per cent capacity for the time being.

“I don’t disagree there will be pent-up demand, but it will take time for us to recover,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to walk before we run.”

READ MORE: New COVID policy allowing small groups results in reunions for B.C. families

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusTourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The entrance to the Lodge Property on Reef Point Road. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Virtual public hearing held for the Lodge Property in Ucluelet

Mayor and council to make a final decision during the April 14 regular council meeting

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Green Point Campground saw an unprecedented flurry of reservations last week. (Pacific Rim National Park Reserve photo)
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s campground sees ‘unprecedented’ interest as reservations open

Green Point Campground is scheduled to open from May 1 – Oct. 12 this year.

Kale is a classic in West Coast gardens.
COLUMN: Kale reigns supreme in West Coast gardens

In Tofino and Ucluelet, kale is a classic.

(B.C. Government photo)
POLL QUESTION: Are you in favour of B.C.’s three-week ban on in-restaurant dining?

Dr. Bonnie Henry called the three week stoppage a “circuit breaker”

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Restaurant owners Oura and Kymon Giakoumakis visit the PQB News/VI Free Daily studio. (Peter McCully photo)
PODCAST: COVID-19 pandemic hits Island’s food service industry hard

Pair of Vancouver Island restaurant owners share thoughts and advice

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

A Nanaimo man will serve nine months in jail for the sexual assault of a young girl he admitted to having committed more than 40 years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo man sentenced for sexually abusing girl more than 40 years ago

Man, now 71, gets nine-month sentence for abuse of friend’s daughter

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. urges people to stay in their neighbourhoods, discourages out-of-household meet-ups

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there should be no travel, even to the next city over

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

Most Read