The tourism industry received some great news this week as the federal government finally announced a firm date to allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit Canada by land or by air.
Tourism has struggled while many other sectors have been able to rebound quickly and contribute to our region's economic recovery.
Starting Aug, 9, Canada will no longer require a quarantine period for recreational travellers from the US. On Sept, 7, the border will open to fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries.
The move comes late in the season for many tourism businesses that rely on summer revenue, but allows the industry to begin working on bookings for 2022.
Meanwhile, the US announced today that it won't be following suit and will keep its land border closed to Canadian travellers until at least Aug. 21.
Canada has recently surpassed the US in the percentage of our population who are fully vaccinated, leading experts to state it is now a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."
In BC, 81.1% of adults have now had at least one dose, and 59% are fully vaccinated.
We asked for quick action and the government responded.
Last week, Transport Canada announced that, effective Nov. 1, it was ending the prohibition of cruise ships in Canadian waters. In the weeks before, The Chamber joined the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and a number of community and business organizations calling on the government to set a re-open date. A firm date is necessary for the industry to begin planning for a return to Canadian ports.
“We needed government to make it clear that cruise ships are welcome in Canada, and we needed a date so that industry can plan to return as soon as possible. I’m happy that the federal government heard us and understands the importance of this industry to our region as well as to Canada’s economy,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Douglas Magazine. “The GVHA has done tremendous work making Greater Victoria a great port, and a lot of businesses will be thrilled to see the ships back with their passengers and crew enjoying our city. There is so much potential for this industry and we look forward to continuing to advocate for the investments and projects that will help make the cruise industry an important and sustainable economic driver for many years to come.”
The GVHA says cruise adds $130 million to our region's economy and creates more than 800 jobs. Revenue from cruise tariffs allows the authority to support popular spaces such as the Ogden Point Breakwater and the Inner Harbour Lower Causeway.
Tourism businesses received welcome news on Monday as the federal Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Mélanie Joly, announced the $500-million Tourism Relief Fund. The program aims to help businesses and organizations make their products and services more resilient from future shocks.
Money can be used for adapting to new regulations, modernizing products and encouraging environmentally sustainable and inclusive practices. As well, the funds can aid with strategic planning that helps with destination development. The funds are not available for restaurants, retailers or hotel chains.
Eligible applicants can receive up to $100,000 in non-repayable contributions for 50% of eligible costs, or up to to $500,000 in repayable contributions for up to 75% of eligible costs.
The move to Step 3 of BC's Restart Plan has renewed optimism among the many businesses that had been stifled by pandemic restrictions.
"We're gradually expanding our capacity to move a little closer to whatever normal is going to be," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told CFAX's Al Ferraby. The two also discussed the need for Canada to open its border to international travellers.
Getting back to business is not without its challenges. Employers continue to struggle finding people to fill available jobs, and supply chains are still working through some of the bumps caused by extended shutdowns. The Chamber and our community partners also continue to urge the provincial government to return its workforce to downtown offices.
Williams also spoke to CFAX about The Chamber's effort to support Indigenous business and follow through on calls to action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The Chamber Board recently approved the creation of a new task-force committed to listening and working alongside First Nations' businesses and Indigenous entrepreneurs. Another way we're supporting economic reconciliation is through a new membership program created for Indigenous-owned business.
To all of our #ChamberChangemakers, thank you. You are part of the effort that allows British Columbia to take the next step.
Starting July 1, we can begin to experience the end of the pandemic. The provincial state of emergency is over, and many of the restrictions that have defined life for the past months are no longer in place.
"Immunization is the key to stopping the spread of COVID and variants," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "However, we still need to exercise patience and kindness with each other. Some of us will take time before feeling truly safe, and we need to respect that. If a business requires you to wear a mask, it's easy to do so and show support for each other."
The Chamber also encourages everyone to make sure they book their second vaccination appointment. We can't risk the work done so far by not getting fully immunized as soon as possible.
Check out this week's Chamber Chat for more on what businesses need to know about requiring masks, and how to ensure the safety of your employees and customers.
With one week before the province enters Step 3 of the BC Restart Plan, we are all looking forward to a vibrant and successful summer. Travel restrictions have been lifted for BC residents and Greater Victoria is beginning to experience an influx of visitors from across the province.
And on Monday, the federal government announced details for opening the border with the United States. However, The Chamber and our national network are concerned that the federal government has yet to reveal a multi-step plan to reopen our border based on the scientific advice of the government's own expert panel. Instead, Monday's announcement raised more questions. We need clarity for our tourism operators, and for the many businesses that rely on international networks.
The federal government needs to be loud and clear about how the $4.3 billion cruise industry will be able to get back to business in Canada. The Chamber is part of a coalition of industry and community leaders calling for a roadmap showing how and when cruises can resume and get back to contributing to Canada's economy. The cruise industry employs 17,000 people in BC whose livelihoods could be at risk if government doesn't act quickly. Cruise lines and passengers are already planning trips in 2022, and they need to know that Canada will be open for business.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber are concerned that lobbyists in the United States will succeed in removing the requirement for cruise ships to stop in Canada when travelling between Washington State and Alaska. The US government has temporary suspended the requirement during the pandemic because of Canada's restrictions on cruise. However, the lack of a clear plan could lead to the change becoming permanent.
Rather than let perception become reality, we need facts and data to help all of us make better choices for our communities and economy.
Last Friday, The Chamber partnered with the City of Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association to release a series of data sets showing positive signs of economic recovery, especially in downtown Victoria.
“The increase in the number of film permits and the value of construction are good indicators of how attractive Greater Victoria is to people wanting to do business here,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. “We see in the data that people are returning to typical levels of activity. We also know there is tremendous pent-up demand to visit our region and for locals to get back to dining inside, going to the movies and theatre and attending concerts and sporting events. We’re ready to go, as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
The information shows that going downtown is a safe and vibrant option as we emerge from pandemic restrictions.
The District of Oak Bay continues to look at permitting secondary suites to help create affordable housing options in the community.
The municipality is in the fourth of a five phase approach to gauge community support and look at how suites have been supported in other jurisdictions.
Housing supply is an important issue for our region. The Chamber continues to hear from members who are struggling to find and keep workers, with the cost of housing one of the main deterrents for people wanting to live and work in Greater Victoria.
It's said necessity is the mother of invention and pandemic restrictions certainly forced businesses to get creative. For the 2,000 pubs and restaurants in BC that set up patios to safely serve people outside, the changes have been so well received the province is now looking to make them permanent.
On Tuesday, the government announced businesses can apply to make their Temporary Expanded Service Areas permanent. Existing patios have also been given extensions to June 2022 to provide more time for businesses to apply.
“(Patios) have been a make-or-break opportunity for so many operations struggling through these uncommon and difficult times,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “This timely announcement, and the certainty it will afford our members in the months and years ahead, are welcome news.”
What do you think of making pandemic patios permanent? Share your thoughts by emailing email@example.com.