The signs of vibrancy are returning to Downtown Victoria. Every day, I’m seeing more people enjoying outdoor patios, bike lanes and trails, carrying bags from their resumed shopping habits. For the most part people are staying appropriately apart and masked as they move through the city, bringing it back to life. The same is being seen across the region as Amanda and I saw on a stroll down Beacon Ave in Sidney and on Oak Bay Avenue.
Of course, we need to be prudent about public health and be realistic that life won’t quickly return to how it was before the pandemic. However I’m optimistic about the future of our region.
When COVID-19 first forced the global economy into hibernation, economists speculated what our eventual recovery would look like. The most hopeful was that the sharp downturn would be mirrored by a sharp rise — the “V” shaped graph. Others suggested we were in for a slower “U” shaped recovery or even a rocky “W” shape. Some are suggesting it is looking like the Nike “swoosh” logo.
And that’s OK. It means we are steadily gaining ground as we hike our way back to the high-capacity economy we have all created in BC.
It also means we have a much greater sense of certainty about our future than we did a few weeks ago, and definitely more than our neighbours south of the border who are struggling with coming to terms with flattening the COVID curve.
Greater Victoria’s tourism sector, specifically, has a better sense of the journey needed before it can get back to the celebratory highs of recent years. With travel now being encouraged within British Columbia and across Canada, there is at least a target audience to focus on. In some ways, our experience of having few cases of COVID-19 and our appeal as a world-class destination, makes our region a gem for every Canadian looking for a safe place to travel.
At some point, we will see the return of travellers from select countries that have also flattened the curve on COVID. We need to prepare for this by continuing to do what we have done by managing our risks, creating healthy habits and teaching others what needs to be done to keep all of us safe.
Knowing that customers are coming back allows businesses to plan for their future and lets them determine what they need to achieve the margins needed to bounce forward. And that’s where The Chamber comes in. We continue to work with our members and industry partners on specific requests for government relief — interest-free loans, extension of the wage subsidy and temporary status of layoffs, and exemption from taxes such as the EHT.
This summer is a critical time — for our economy, for Canada’s place in the world and for the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce itself. We’ve adapted and thrived since 1863, and we are working hard to find a way forward for ourselves and our members in 2020.
Let’s keep working together and conquer the hill ahead through collaboration and determination.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of the Business Examiner
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