‘Everybody’s in the same boat’: Tourism operators starting to see COVID-19 cancellations

Farwell Canyon near Riske Creek, B.C. is a destination spot for tourists in the Cariboo Chilcotin. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Owners of the Historic Chilcotin Lodge at Riske Creek, B.C. are starting to see cancellations come in as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Brenda Van Embers said everyone’s in the same boat and needs to remain calm and work together. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake
Brenda, Kris and Kurt Van Embers own and operate the Historic Chilcotin Lodge in Riske Creek, B.C. (Photo submitted)

Global uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis is already impacting the tourism industry, even for small, remote B.C. operators.

“The cancellations are just starting to roll in,” said Brenda Van Embers on Monday, March 16.

Brenda, her husband Kurt and son Kris have owned and operated the Historic Chilcotin Lodge at Riske Creek for the past four years, purchasing the 10-bedroom lodge about a half hour’s drive west of Williams Lake in April 2017, just before the wildfires.

“”It’s pretty scary out there. It’s very stressful, but everybody’s in the same boat. It’s not just us,” Van Embers said. “We have to remain calm and work together.”

Brenda said she waived the fee for this weekend’s cancelled bookings and is looking ahead to adjust Easter plans and other activities for the lodge and tea house as the coronavirus situation continues to unfold.

“It was going to be a wonderful season,” said Van Embers, noting half of her summer bookings are with European travellers taking part in the popular circle tour from Williams Lake to Bella Coola, then boarding BC Ferries to Vancouver Island. Those cancellations haven’t come in yet, she said.

“I almost don’t want to answer the phone.”

In terms of promised government compensation for potential business loss as a result of COVID-19, the Van Embers family have experienced emergency funding following the 2017 wildfire, from which they feel they have just recovered.

READ MORE: New Chilcotin Lodge owners find themselves in the thick of it

“We know through the wildfires there was help, so we are confident there will be again,” she said.

In the meantime, Van Embers is staying home, keeping a watchful eye on the media and government updates, and worrying about her elderly father.

“Everybody’s worried. We don’t go anywhere unless we have to.”

READ MORE: B.C. launches online COVID-19 self-assessment tool

Representatives from Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA) said Wednesday (March 18) they are working closely with health authorities, government, and other industry partners to minimize the impacts of the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 and build resiliency in communities and the tourism industry.

“We have mobilized as part of the provincial Tourism Emergency Response Team, gathering information from tourism businesses and sharing with government immediate and future needs,” stated Amy Thacker, chief executive officer of the CCCTA.

“We will be making information available to tourism operators and working directly with impacted businesses to build resiliency and aid recovery.”

Destination BC told Black Press Media on the weekend that it has already begun to implement its multi-phased emergency management and recovery marketing plans, exploring the most effective ways to support B.C.’s tourism industry throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.

“To mitigate impacts from the loss of visitation from certain international markets, Destination BC will redirect marketing funds on a temporary basis to our short-haul markets, including Alberta and B.C., to influence travellers during prime booking times for each market,” stated the spokesperson.

“Our short-haul markets have historically proven that they do still travel during situations like these, prioritizing destinations that are close to home, and they make those decisions on a short-term basis.”

On Destination BC’s website, a COVID-19 resource page has been added that is regularly updated, and includes federal and provincial information on infection prevention, travel advisories and suspensions, flights and border services, cruise lines, the role of DBC and Destination Canada in international destination marketing, and official provincial health directives.

There is also a visitors resource page on HelloBC.com with the latest information: hellobc.com/what-you-need-to-know/.”

Tourism in British Columbia generates upwards of $19 billion in revenues annually through more than 19,000 (small) businesses that employ over 330,000 people. The industry has enjoyed record-setting growth in recent years and has become the province’s third-largest business sector, according to the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.

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

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