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

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

The small fire was in the Big Eddy. (Contributed)
Revelstoke grass fire extinguished

The blaze is the first of the season in our area

Twin falls in Yoho National Park. Yoho is one of the mountain parks whose draft management plan is now available for review. (Claire Palmer photo)
Local input sought to shape future of mountain national parks

Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks are amongst those seeking input

The city has decided to apply to have the Jordan River area withdrawn from Crown Land disposition, which would put the decision on how the land is used and protected in the hands of the city. (File photo)
City of Revelstoke applying to withdraw Jordan River from Crown Land

At the moment the province has control over what is developed in the area

Arlene Howe holds up a picture of her son, Steven, at a memorial event for drug overdose victims and their families at Kelowna’s Rotary Beach Park on April 14. Steven died of an overdose at the age of 32 on Jan. 31, 2015. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
Moms Stop the Harm members placed crosses Wednesday morning, April 14, on Rotary Beach in memory of children lost to drug overdoses. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Kelowna mothers remember children lost to the opioid crisis

It has been five years since illicit drug deaths was announced a public health emergency

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

A Keremeos family lost their home after a fire shortly before midnight on April 13. No injuries were reported. (Contributed)
Keremeos home destroyed in late-night fire

The family inside was unharmed

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Naloxone
Op/Ed: Interior Health CEO speaks on five years of strides and challenges in overdose crisis

In 2020, close to 4,000 people across IH had access to opioid medications

Somewhere in the pack being celebrated by his teammates is Vernon Vipers forward Zack Tonelli, who scored in overtime Wednesday afternoon, April 14, to give the Snakes a 6-5 win over the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in B.C. Hockey League pod play at Kal Tire Place. (Liza Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Vernon Vipers bite Salmon Arm Silverbacks in OT

Snakes blow 5-3 third-period lead, rally in extra time for 6-5 pod play result over rivals

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

New parking meters have been installed on Main Street, Ellis Street, Front Street, Nanaimo Avenue and Padmore Avenue in Penticton. (City of Penticton photo)
Pay parking now in effect in downtown Penticton

A spot downtown will now cost you $2 per hour

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Most Read