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Tourism Campbell River executive director sees uncertain future for sector

A Vancouver Island tourism group fears another COVID summer could be the death knell for some operators.

Destination Campbell River executive director, Kirsten Soder, says some of them may not be able to survive, if tourism dollars aren’t injected into the economy soon.

“The risk of our visitor economy collapsing completely is very real,” Soder said. 

“There were some marine operators and bear watchers and things that were able to salvage a bit of their season last year, but we didn’t anticipate heading into June with this much uncertainty.”

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Soder says if we have another summer like last year, we may lose some iconic island experiences forever.

“If we lost some of these incredible experiences, especially some of the new and well-established Indigenous cultural tourism experiences that hold such high appeal to international guests, that might mean that we lose these opportunities and experiences completely, or at least several years to get back to where we were.”

She added that while they know domestic tourism won’t make up for another summer without international guests, particularly for the bear-watching industry, they’re relying on British Columbians and Canadians to spend dollars locally.

Soder said if they can get Canadian travellers to spend just 12 percent of what they would spend otherwise, on international travel, it would speed recovery up by a year.

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She notes that tourism contributes more to the provincial GDP, than fishing, logging, and mining combined. 

So, from a quality of life perspective, Soder says tourism drives new restaurants and opportunities that are essential to residents.  

“There’s a lot of social and cultural benefits to tourism beyond economics that are also really critical,” she said.

As well, the financial relief being offered to anchor tourism attractions and bus companies won’t help everyone.

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Smaller tourism businesses don’t meet the criteria to apply for the $500,000 to $1 million in funding through B.C.’s Major Anchor Attractions Program.

That means, if case numbers don’t drop dramatically and travel restrictions stay in place, they’re relying on people taking ‘staycations’ and checking out all that local attractions have to offer.

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