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Whistler businesses forge ahead under new COVID-19 travel restrictions

Early season marked by province’s request for essential travel only
Businesses Covid BY MEg MEG
Whistler business owners have been riding the COVID-19 roller-coaster since March. File photo by Braden Dupuis.

In the face  of new province-wide recommendations asking British Columbians not to travel for vacations or socializing, Whistler businesses seem to be taking the same approach they have since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out: Follow safety protocols, pivot where possible, and, despite challenges, hope the season ahead will bring local and regional tourists. 

“I’m optimistic,” said Melissa Pace, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. “There are many businesses that are optimistic. We’re looking forward to the mountain being open—even if it’s a local’s day—it’s open and will be moving. We’re working extremely hard these days under a lot of change. The chamber tries to make sure messages are clear, up-to-date, and concise.” 

But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a struggle for many as well. 

“Anecdotally speaking, there is a sense of anxiousness,” she added. “There’s certainly a level of uncertainty. I think that many businesses—if not all—are under extreme pressure to not only keep meeting payroll and rent and financial obligations, but to keep their doors open.” 

The Scandinave Spa Whistler has seen fewer visitors, but it’s also been operating at a manageable level over the last few weeks, said Michelle Leroux, sales and marketing manager.  

“Prior to this most recent [public health order] the spa was challenged with how many people were looking to come for the baths and the number of people that we could allow into the facility,” she said in an email. “More inclement weather means that we have to reduce capacity even further. We are confident that with all the preventative measures we’ve put in place, we will be able to stay open to serve our local community and keep our employees working at a time when having a safe space to take care of one’s mental and physical well-being couldn’t be more important.” 

Looking to the season ahead, in addition to strict safety protocols, the Scandinave also plans to create a reservation system for the baths to address demand on weekends, especially. 

“We hope our region can adhere to the latest health order so we can get back to a lower infection rate in B.C. and ensure the winter season can go ahead as planned,” Leroux wrote.

At Canadian Wilderness Adventures (CWA), both the end of summer and fall wound up being busier than expected, leading to some optimism that the winter might be the same. 

“I don’t think [travel restrictions] have made any difference for us as of yet,” said Craig Beattie, general manager with the tourism company. “We’re operating. We have our snowmobile tours going. We’re gung-ho to try and fulfil our products we have going.”

Several of the company’s tours have shifted this winter to adhere to safety protocols. While its fondue tour is cancelled, for example, they’re planning to serve food outdoors around a campfire. 

“You’ll have your food, live entertainment, creating that really fun outdoor experience,” Beattie said. “It will be spatially distant, with only your cohort, the same rules and regulations as a restaurant.” 

While CWA has continued to be creative and think on its feet, these, of course, are not usual times, he added.

“It is challenging, we all know that,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to mitigate our losses and we had some cost cutting we had to do through it all. The government subsidies have helped us to keep our staff employed and it allowed us to get projects done and work on new projects.”

To that end, chamber members are looking at new government programs, like the small- and medium-sized business recovery grants through the B.C. government, Pace said. 

In the meantime, they’re keeping their eye on the rest of winter, not knowing what restrictions, orders or advisories might be in place. 

“Individuals from the regional market are going to make a decision to come or not,” Pace said. “We’re prepared in Whistler to receive them. As far as businesses are concerned, safety protocols are in place.”

As for Sea to Sky locals, she had one more message. 

“Locals need to shop local,” she said. “Don’t go to Amazon, support local.”