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Tourism Task Force to table report next week

Feds announce new support for tourism industry
n-tourism task force (by Vince Shuley) Opening day 27.49
B.C.’s tourism operators have adapted well to COVID-19, according to Tourism Task Force chair Tamara Vrooman, and there is light at the end of the tunnel—if they can weather the winter. Photo by Vince Shuley

As COVID-19  continues to create anxiety for tourism operators ahead of the winter season, the wheels of government are turning to keep the industry afloat.

A provincial Tourism Task Force is preparing to table its report to government next week, while the federal government announced new supports for the tourism and hospitality industry on Nov. 30. 

In its Fall Economic Statement (FES) issued Nov. 30, the federal government announced it will work with financial institutions on the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP)—a new program for the sectors hardest-hit by COVID, like tourism and hospitality, hotels, arts and entertainment. 

The program will offer “100-per-cent government-guaranteed financing for heavily impacted businesses, and provide low-interest loans of up to $1 million over extended terms, up to 10 years,” according to the FES.

“Rates will be lower than those offered in [the Business Credit Availability Program] and beneath typical market rates for hard-hit sectors.”

More details on the HASCAP will be released soon.

Tourism Whistler president and CEO Barrett Fisher welcomed the news.

“First off, kudos to the federal government which has stepped up to provide important financial resources and tools to help businesses in the hardest-hit sectors, such as tourism. These important resources are complementary to provincial supports for businesses,” Fisher said in an email, adding that the HASCAP is an important tool that could help businesses with cash flow as they ride out the worst of the pandemic. 

“While this loan program will not replace grants that would assist businesses on the verge of bankruptcy, it will assist businesses who are economically able to weather the next few months as we work towards business recovery.”

With increasing COVID-19 cases necessitating new restrictions Canada-wide, an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program to June 2021 is also welcome news, Fisher said. 

Fisher also took part in a regional roundtable for the provincial government’s Tourism Task Force, which was tasked in September with providing recommendations for short-term recovery spending, as well as medium- to long-term opportunities for the industry. 

The task force is wrapping up two months of extensive stakeholder consultation with a final report to government expected next week, said YVR president and CEO (and task force chair) Tamara Vrooman.

“Certainly from a liquidity and finance point of view, there’s no doubt that this is a sector that needs some support,” Vrooman said. 

“Perfectly good businesses going into March of this year are really at risk of failing, and so how do we make sure that we can support them through this second wave, until we can get to the other side?”

The task force conducted a series of 12 virtual roundtables from Nov. 9 to 19, engaging different regions and sectors of the industry. 

While there were, of course, many stories of the “unprecedented” impacts wrought by COVID-19, “we also heard that there’s an untold story there,” Vrooman said, noting that the industry has done an “exemplary” job of responding to changing health orders.

“It is a business that is, first and foremost, about people, and they know how to move people through a guided experience—it’s actually what tourism operators do right across the system,” she said.

“So being able to do that in a healthy, distanced and orderly way is something that I think has been a real strength, and that’s why we have seen very, very few incidents of COVID outbreaks in tourism businesses.” 

While its report isn’t due until Dec. 31, the task force wanted to give the government as much time before the holidays as possible to consider it, Vrooman added.

As for where Whistler fits into the tourism recovery picture, there are opportunities even in a pandemic winter, Vrooman noted.

“It works well, if I could put it that way, in a COVID context—people are outside, they’re distanced, they wear face coverings and goggles as well as gloves to participate,” she said.

“You know how to distance people to get on lifts, you know how to regulate and marshal folks in different ways, [and] you know how to monitor people and trace them, which you have to do for safety on the hill in any event.” 

There are other long-term positives on the horizon for the industry: operators are still hearing about pent-up demand for their product once it’s safe to travel, and vaccines are developing at a steady rate.

But the winter ahead remains a concern for many.

“I don’t pretend for a minute that our report will be the solution to the [entire] problem,” Vrooman said.

“But we really hope that through the deep consultations that we’ve done that we’re able to ensure that government has the facts.”