Tourist-related industries have had a hard year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel bans in B.C., across the country and internationally. (File photo)

Tourist-related industries have had a hard year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related travel bans in B.C., across the country and internationally. (File photo)

Cowichan Valley tourism feeling tight pinch from pandemic

Charting a course for recovery necessary, as about 37 per cent can’t pay their bills right now

Tourism-related businesses in the Cowichan Valley have seen their revenues drop by as much as 40 per cent since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.

Approximately 37 per cent of those businesses can’t pay their bills, and 21 per cent are temporarily closed due to the pandemic, according to Karen Bannister, director of destination marketing for Tourism Vancouver Island.

Speaking to the board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District on May 12, a delegation headed by Bannister and Janet Docherty, president of the Tourism Cowichan Society, told board members that the situation for tourism-related businesses in the Valley, and beyond, is becoming increasingly concerning, particularly with the new travel restrictions within B.C. that have been recently announced.

RELATED STORY: CANADIAN TOURISM SECTOR SHRANK BY NEARLY HALF IN 2020 AS COVID-19 RAVAGES INDUSTRY

Bannister said the industry knows the situation it’s in and it needs to look forward and chart a course for recovery.

“We don’t know when the virus will be contained and what kind of supply chain will be intact when people are able to travel again,” she said. “Because many of these businesses are so heavily impacted by the pandemic [and travel restrictions], we don’t know which of them will survive through this.

“We also expect there will be some communities and First Nations that may not welcome visitors when it’s considered safe to travel again, and the consumers may have some hesitancy as well. It’s a very vulnerable business sector right now.”

Bannister said the domestic market is believed to be the key to recovery for the industry, and the people on Vancouver Island need to be encouraged to explore their own backyards when regional travel is allowed again.

She said the tourist sector should then look to the Lower Mainland and the rest of B.C. to draw people here and begin to recoup some of their losses from the pandemic.

RELATED STORY: B.C. TOURISM INDUSTRY MAY BE CHALLENGED WITH PENT-UP DEMAND: ECONOMIST

“The most immediate reasons for travel, once regional travelling is allowed, is expected to be for people to revisit family and friends, as well as familiar places,” Bannister said.

“So it will be an opportunity for communities in the Cowichan Valley to position themselves as places to revisit and welcome everyone back home.

“We believe there is a lot of opportunities here and we’re now focused on developing a strong sense of place. We all need to work together collaboratively to help this sector.”

Tim McGonigle, the director for Lake Cowichan on the CVRD board, said the whole Cowichan Valley suffered as a tourist destination during the pandemic.

“I encourage all the 80,000 people in the Valley to concentrate on the tourist entities in their region before moving on outside of the local area,” he said.

“It’s very important that we help this industry because there are some areas in the Valley that are very dependent on visitors.”

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robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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