No surprise this outgoing year saw a mix of highs and lows for Vancouver Island’s tourism sector – it’s one of many industries adapting to the “new normal.”

Reflecting on 2021, Tourism Vancouver Island President and CEO Anthony Everett recalls the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought on to those working in the industry.

Some months were slower than others for hotel and activity bookings, but Everett’s keeping positive, pointing to a record-breaking summer. 

In fact, he says this past August was the busiest August ever for island tourism – and that’s all thanks to local travellers.

“Certainly, domestic travellers are travelling here, so that is the good news. We’re very grateful actually,” Everett tells My Campbell River Now.

“Vancouver Island residents themselves are supporting tourism businesses, and they’ve really come out in droves to do that. So there’s a lot of good things. We’re just staying optimistic.”

Everett says hotels are seeing an uptick in bookings with the holiday season in full swing. He says people will likely have difficulty finding accommodation islandwide, from Victoria to the Comox Valley and beyond.

“Traditionally, here on the island, there are lots of places that book up this time of year, up and down the island, really. Things are busy,” he says.

“That is a good thing, and that really is on the hotel booking side because a lot of the activity businesses are slower this time of year, or they’re closed waiting for the summer season.”

But looking to the “long road ahead,” as Everett calls it, things usually tail off in the new year, through January and February.

And coupled with unusual challenges, like the new Omicron variant and travel restrictions, he finds the future of tourism ultimately unclear. 

He’s also highlighting the labour shortage, noting it was a problem for his industry long before the pandemic. Only now, it’s more “acute.” 

“Whether you’re an activity provider or a hotel provider, whether you’re in a big community or a small community, finding people to work – people have left during all the uncertainty in our industry over the past couple of years,” Everett says.

And it’s something that will likely be a “critical issue” for years to come. “We just don’t have enough people entering the industry to work,” he explains. “It’s not an easy thing to rectify.”

At the end of the day, Everett’s proud of his industry and its perseverance, as well as the businesses that operate within.

“Businesses are becoming very resilient through this time; hopefully that serves us well going into next year with still some uncertainty on the horizon,” he adds. “We just take it as it comes.”