The West Coast won’t be rolling out its usual red carpet to tourists this weekend.
May-long has traditionally served as the launching pad for a thriving tourism season, but COVID-19 concerns have local officials pleading with visitors to stay away, for now.
Just as they did in the days leading up to Easter, West Coast leaders announced a unified message Tuesday morning urging tourists not to visit during the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend and thanking businesses for staying closed.
The announcement was released on Tuesday morning, May 12, and is signed by representatives from all eight West Coast communities—Chief Joshua Charleson of the Hesquiaht First Nation, Chief Greg Louie of the Ahousaht First Nation, Elmer Frank of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations, Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noël, President Chuck McCarthy of the Yuułuʔiłʔat Government, Chief Anne Mack of the Toquaht Nation and ACRD Area “C” Director Kel Roberts.
“As the Province of BC continues to restrict non-essential travel, West Coast First Nations, municipalities and community leaders are reaching out to thank local businesses for remaining closed over the upcoming May long weekend, and recognizing the patience and understanding of all those who have postponed trips to the area. COVID-19 continues to pose a risk to small, rural communities, and while the West Coast is not yet open and ready to welcome visitors, the region is preparing for the time when they can safely do so, as documented in BC’s Restart Plan,” the announcement reads, in part.
“Although most businesses across the region have closed since early April and have subsequently endured significant hardship, accommodation providers, retail stores, tour operators and restaurants are coming together to share best practices, ideas and plans for a safe and measured approach to reopening in line with provincial guidelines.”
In a letter to local businesses dated May 8, Tofino’s municipal council acknowledged that the past few months have “put an unbelievable strain on Tofino’s business community,” and thanked business owners for the financial sacrifices they’re making to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The May long weekend has always been the ‘unofficial’ beginning of a strong summer season in Tofino, making it an especially difficult time. Remaining closed right now comes at a huge financial cost to local businesses, and that is the tough stance we are taking, and the difficult decision that so many of you have already made,” the letter read, in part. “
“The District of Tofino has partnered with Tourism Tofino and the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce to form the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery, which will move quickly to quantify and understand the impacts and needs of businesses as we move along the path of recovery.”
READ MORE: Tofino launches two COVID-19 task forces
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News via email that it is imperative for West Coast leaders to deliver a unified message.
“It’s very important that we collaborate as a region so that no one gets left behind and no one moves too fast. We all share the common concern of putting health first and protecting the most vulnerable people in our region, as well as the staff members who work in visitor-facing businesses. This means moving forward carefully and in step with each other as we re-open the region to tourism,” she said.
“It’s also really important that we follow the lead of the Province and provincial health officials. BC’s Restart plan clearly says that if all goes well, accommodation business can expect to re-open under enhanced COVID-19 protocols as early as June. We have a lot of work to do to get ready, and I am confident that we can re-open safely and carefully if we do it together—as a region and with the province.”
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said the West Coast has been consistent in its messaging to potential visitors.
“The message is the same as it has been,” he said. “We want you to visit, but now is not the time…Stay close to home and let’s get through the coming weeks here.”
Noel said he has been impressed by the willingness Ucluelet’s entrepreneurs have shown and their commitment to flattening the curve.
“It’s been two months now and, I think, from the onset there’s been a lot of buy in from the community,” he said. “There was a small percentile that was maybe bending and kind of trying to fall between the cracks but, in general, I think it’s gone very well.”
He added that Ucluelet plans to waive its business licence fees in light of the pandemic and is considering a 0 per cent tax increase for 2020.
“We’re trying to do what we can to minimize the impact and if it’s a $150-$200 savings for a business, it’s just one less fee that they have to pay,” he said. “We are trying to minimize the impact to the community as best we can.”
He acknowledged the financial struggle residents and businesses are going through and suggested the light at the end of the tunnel could arrive before summer’s end.
“We haven’t seen a foreclosure sign go up in somebody’s front yard, but there’s definitely some hardships. I do believe that when we get into June here, as the recommendations from the province get a bit more relaxed, there’s going to be some opportunities for some tourists to come to town,” he said. “We haven’t come out with a date on the dartboard of when things are going to start, but the reality is it looks like early to mid June I would think that there’s going to be some more tourist activity in the region.”
He added that the roll-out of July’s annual Ukee Days celebration is still up in the air.
“That’s probably a discussion point in the coming month here about how that’s going to look,” he said. “Listening to what the province has said, I don’t think there’s going to be any large gatherings for the foreseeable future at this point.”