By now most people have heard news stories or reports about the devastating effect COVID-19 restrictions and precautions have had on the tourism industry. Many of these stories are told from the overall point of view of the industry associations, or the destinations marketing organizations. While it is their mandate to speak for their stakeholders, seeing these reports make it easy to forget just how far the tourism industry filters into our everyday economy.
The tourism industry is full of independent businesses, entrepreneurs and management who have been trying to pivot their businesses to meet public health COVID-19 protocols and safety measures. It’s the stories of these members of the community that the Metro Vancouver Tourism Task Force has been seeking out. Sharing the stories from restauranteurs, tour operators, accommodation providers and attractions to let the public know just how deep the roots of the tourism industry descend into our every day lives. The downturn affects not only for those of us who are part of the industry but all areas of the economy, as fewer visitors meant thousands of industry workers were laid off or were not needed to fill seasonal jobs that didn’t materialize.
“Normally through the summer occupancy would be in the high 90%, running outlets 7 days a week, and have up to 5,000 people coming into the property, and it went down to 10 people on property” says Westin Bayshore General Manager, Paul Cannings, on how the pandemic affected the hotel. “Right at the beginning of the pandemic, the hotel dropped to single digit occupancy and pretty much every outlet we had closed and we were just managing cancellations and rebookings.”
Business operators are not only busy navigating ways to keep their business open but also looking out for their employees that are needed to keep the doors open now and will be needed when normal business levels return.
Cedric Towers and Tammy Taylor of Vancouver Whale Watch discuss the challenges of maintaining employee morale “ We’ve been sending out frequent emails to keep our staff updated with our plans and letting everyone know we’re here fort them if they need anything, or just need to talk about any concerns. We’ve sent a few feel-good and funny videos to brighten up our staffs’ days.
Iori Kataoka owner of Yuwa Japanese Cuisine on West 16th Ave in Vancouver says about maintaining employees “One of the largest concerns I have is permanently losing 1/3 of our staff, as they had all gone back to their home countries. This was one of the biggest hurdles for us, as we can only operate at 50 per cent capacity at this point because we’re understaffed.”
Sometimes keeping the doors open isn’t just important to the businesses bottom line it’s also vital to neighbouring businesses. Gulf Of Georgia National Historic Site in Steveston is operated by a local not-for-profit organization on behalf of Parks Canada. The Society is responsible for interpreting the site, creating programs and events, and managing the day-to-day operation, including raising 50% of its operating funds. However, the responsibility doesn’t end at the front door, community engagement is a major part of the Cannery’s operations. While Summer brought some local visitors to Steveston to explore the Cannery’s adapted programs, it will be quite different this fall and winter when visitors to the Steveston Village are expected to dwindle.
“If we don’t get people coming from outside of Steveston to Steveston to support everybody, stores and shops and mom-and-pop businesses would shut down,” comments Mimi Horita, Marketing & Visitor Services Manager of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society.
Visit metrovancouvertourismtaskforce.com/member-stories, to read more of the stories, from these and other industry businesses and operators, as told by Kelly Liberatore & Joyce Lam, with photos by Mark Kinskofer.
While support is bring promised from senior government, it is slow in coming, in the meantime we can all help by hearing and sharing the stories from the industry, and taking note of ways we can help support our neighbourhood businesses, since we are all tourism.