Canada

Disappearance of visitors due to COVID-19 unnerves city's tourism sector

“Many days aren’t even that good,” Bloomfield said.

In high season, Cycle City would have 25 tour guides on staff. This year, it has none. There has been a shift recently to a slight increase in Canadian travellers from Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec. But it’s been a trickle. Bloomfield tries to remain positive but he’s worried about the future.

“This is a long-term issue for us,” he said. “Really, getting through the winter will be our challenge. What happens in 2021? Nobody knows.”

Cycle City is one of many tourism-dependent businesses in Metro Vancouver “taking it on the chin,” said Ted Lee, acting CEO of Tourism Vancouver.

“The cruise ship season has been cancelled. We have no meetings or convention business. We have no large gatherings or sporting events until a vaccine or effective (COVID-19) treatment is found,” he said. “It’s been devastating to our industry.”

Numbers compiled by the tourism industry reveal a bleak picture. In 2020, labour income is on track for a drop of as much as $4 billion; tax revenues to government could be down $2.6 billion, according to data compiled by the Tourism and Hospitality Response and Recovery Task Force.

Overall, 72,000 full-time equivalent jobs could be lost, Lee said.

To salvage part of the summer, Tourism Vancouver is part of a #VancouverComeBack campaign designed to inspire Metro Vancouverites to explore the region.

“We’ve been hit early and we’ve been hit hard,” he said. “We need all the help we can get from local folks. We need all hands on deck to give our businesses a chance to survive until next year.”

Lee said he’s confident tourism will return. The best way to help bring it back, he believes, is to be coordinated and work together.

“I think originally we thought this would be a sprint and we’d solve this quick,” he said. “This is going to be a marathon.”

As of the first week of July, the occupancy rate in hotels in Metro Vancouver was 22 per cent, up from 13 per cent in late June. Last year, it was 89 per cent in July said Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association.

“We’re extremely concerned about the amount of layoffs and the lack of employment opportunities to rehire if we don’t see those occupancy numbers increase for the summer,” she said.

In a normal tourism year, Vancouver acts as the gateway for international travellers heading to other parts of B.C. such as Whistler, Victoria and the Thompson Okanagan region. Tourists would stay a few days in the city when they arrived and a few days before they left. That’s all gone because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The drop in business means about 20 hotels in Metro Vancouver remain closed, representing about 30 per cent of the total. Some may open later this month or in August depending on whether people book more reservations, she said.

Jarrett sees several opportunities to “save the summer and potentially part of the fall.”

She would like to see the meetings market open up to allow for more than 50 people at a time. She said that’s possible because of the money and attention hotels have put into COVID-19 prevention measures such as creating one-way corridors to maintain physical distancing and cleaning elevators which can cost up to $50,000 per hotel.

She would also like senior levels of government to take seriously the idea of creating travel bridges or travel pods to link B.C. to other countries that have flattened the curve such as Australia and New Zealand.

“With Phase 3 opening in B.C., we need a few weeks under our belt before having that conversation,” she said. “We’d be extremely pleased if we could do that.”

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In April, business at Cycle City Toursin downtown Vancouver was booming. Metro Vancouver’s biggest bicycle touring company was selling its rental bikes — about 200 of them — along with new bikes at an incredible rate of about one per hour.

“It was just bonkers,” said owner Josh Bloomfield. “We couldn’t get the bikes out fast enough.”

It kept up like that for about four weeks. But Bloomfield had no illusions about what selling off his assets means.

“It’s not like that’s a great thing for us,” he said. “It’s a stop gap measure to generate some revenue to pay the rent. Overall, it’s pretty dire.”

The situation facing Cycle City is a familiar one to many tourism-dependent businesses in Metro Vancouver. In March, when the province declared an emergency over the novel coronavirus outbreak, tourism came to an unprecedented halt.

The busy summer months are supposed to be when companies such as Cycle City generate enough revenue to last through the lean winter months. If the company rented 350 bikes a day in July of 2019, they maybe reached 35 a day this year — and that’s stretching it.

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