Tourism businesses are some of the most deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Tourism Vancouver Island has pivoted its resources to focus entirely on helping that sector survive.
The tourism agency’s resilience program kicked off in April. Tourism enterprises who sign up get assigned to a specific person who helps determine what funding they qualify for, and how to adjust their offerings to operate within WorkSafeBC requirements. Any Vancouver Island tourism company is eligible to participate in the program, and it’s free of charge.
So far, 22 north Island businesses are participating, but the agency estimates there are upwards of 250 who could benefit.
Tourism in B.C. received a $1-million federal grant to help run the resiliency programs, inspired by Vancouver Island’s model, split between each of the province’s five regional tourism agencies.
While the resiliency programs do not provide any direct funding to tourism businesses, what they are offering is the consultation business owners have sought. There is so much information, different aid programs and changing eligibility requirements, having a dedicated consultant is a big help.
Port McNeill resident Andrew Jones owns Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures, a kayak touring company he started in 1999. He had also just co-founded a new venture offering coastal safaris.
Jones signed up for Tourism Vancouver Island’s resiliency program right away, and appreciates having one-on-one support from a dedicated advisor helped him successfully apply for funding, and retool his business for the short term. He’s refocused his summer schedule on whale watching kayak trips out of two base-camps on Hansen Island, just off the coast from Telegraph Cove, and has cancelled all the expedition-style trips.
Usually, he’d have 28 staff members during the summer, but this year it will be down to 12. That’s still more than he strictly needs, but Jones said he wants to keep as many of his guides employed as he can, with help from aid programs for which he’s qualified. Tourism Vancouver Island has also helped with human resources requirements, as COVID-19 has introduced new processes and safety checks.
”I could probably do it myself, but there’s so much coming at you all at once, so having someone who can help find that answer right away has been really helpful,” Jones said.
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