The streets of Harrison are quiet now. (File Photo/Leah Ballantyne)

COVID-19 impact on tourism communities like Harrison ‘devastating’

Government, resident support crucial for small business survival

The streets of Harrison, normally getting steadily busier as the advent of the normal tourism season dawns, remain silent as the world watches and waits for the threat of coronavirus to diminish.

Tourism – one of Agassiz-Harrison’s top moneymakers – has taken a crippling hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. While provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry indicated some coronavirus-related restrictions could be lifted by the middle of next month, it still leaves an uncertain future for many small businesses, the tourism industry in particular.

“The impact of COVID-19 on both Agassiz and Harrison is significant and serious causing a lot of anxiety and concern for the business community in general. That said, Harrison as a tourist destination, has been much harder hit,” said Robert Reyerse, executive director of Tourism Harrison, on the impact of coronavirus on the Agassiz-Harrison business community. “As a seasonal destination, Harrison businesses make the money they need to survive the year in the April to September period. The impact of a protracted shutdown will be devastating.”

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Reyerse said with Esplanade Avenue – a main business artery in the community – barricaded by municipal order, already-struggling restaurants cannot provide takeout services.

Provincially speaking, the Business Council of B.C. forecasted a seven to 11 per cent overall decrease in B.C.’s economy for 2020 with a 60 to 85 per cent drop in in the recreation sector, 28 to 54 per cent decrease in accommodations and food services.

“Without significant and ongoing help, many businesses cannot survive these kind of decreases,” Reyerse said.

On the positive side, the federal and provincial governments have stepped in to assist small businesses across Canada. There are programs in place to subsidize wages and offer loans for cash flow. While certain businesses will ultimately have to figure out how to pay the cash flow loans back, Reyerse said governments on all levels are “doing their best” to offer support to hurting businesses.

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Helping the local economy amounts to doing the same thing consumers in small communities all over the world have always done, even amid these unusual circumstances – shop local and take advantage of the local businesses that are open.

“Take advantage of some of the local support organizations like supportlocalbc.com where you can buy gift certificates from participating local businesses,” Reyerse said.

As for Tourism Harrison, they continue to work closely with Destination B.C. – a provincial tourism advocate and authority – to continue seeking additional aid for the especially devastated tourism sector. While long-term efforts continue, however, there are some helpful resources already in place for small businesses at https://covid.smallbusinessbc.ca. The online hub offers the latest information on the pandemic, financial relief information and helpful webinars in adapting to COVID-19 restrictions as much as possible.

While planning for the Harrison Festival of the Arts is moving forward with cautious optimism, uncertainty still surrounds a number of important spring and summer events in the area. The Tourism Harrison Wine Festival, Harrison Dragon Boat Regatta and Sasquatch Days find themselves on the list of countless cancelled events that Reyerse said will no doubt have a significant impact in the area.

“It’s clear that pandemic restrictions will need to be lifted carefully and in stages and this means large gatherings are unlikely to be allowed any time soon,” Reyerse added.

RELATED: Tourism industry advocate calls for emergency fund in wake of COVID-19 cancellations

Even as restrictions ultimately start to ease, the months ahead will certainly present a challenge for businesses and residents alike.

“Businesses will need to be flexible and creative to adapt to this new normal,” Reyerse said. “The Harrison Agassiz Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Harrison are both looking at what best practices are out there and how they can be implemented locally to give our businesses a fighting chance to survive in this new environment.”

While prospects for returning to the normal we knew before the pandemic are still too distant to be visible, returning to a closer-to-regular routine is still something for which residents and businesses should be prepared.

“My message to the business community is to stay safe, stay informed, and be positively prepared,” Reyerse said. “Businesses need to stay positive and be prepared for reopening. Make sure you have a plan that can support a safe opening and accommodate any new social distancing protocols that are likely to be required.”



adam.louis@ahobserver.com

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