The tourism industry in northern B.C. may suffer a downturn after the government announced last month that it was slashing BC Ferries service along the north coast.
Among the reductions in service, the Port Hardy to Prince Rupert route will see a decrease of 39 round trips, a 30 per cent decrease from the current schedule, while the Skidegate and Prince Rupert ferries, which link Haida Gwaii with the North Coast will be cut by 25 per cent, a reduction of 50 trips per year.
Though Smithers isn’t a coastal community, there will be indirect consequences to the local tourism industry.
Smithers Tourism’s Gladys Atrill wasn’t pleased with the news.
“I certainly think the decision was short-sighted,” she said. “Just when the tourism industry was getting back on it’s feet there is something else to deal with. And this one is self created; it’s not an international crisis or something we have no control over.”
Many tour groups and travellers follow a route through Port Hardy, to Prince Rupert and circle back through Highway 16.
Hudson Bay Lodge owner Al McCreary, expects his numbers to drop significantly. Hypothetically, if the reduced ferry schedule resulted in a 100 per cent loss in business, he would lose $21,000 over the summer and have to cut 12 part-time jobs, he said, though, that is a worst case scenario. Tourism from BC Ferries represents about 10 per cent of the Hudson Bay Lodge’s business.
“At the end of the day they have to know what the economic impact is,” McCreary said. “They needed to do a proper economic analysis.”
He also would have liked more notice.
“I’ve got rooms booked two years in advance,” McCreary said. “European tour companies book the rooms and they go to try and sell them in Europe. If we don’t provide them with what we have offered, then we can be on the hook financially. You have to give us notice, you can’t just say sorry, there’s no boat now.”
Adding to McCreary’s woes, European laws force a money back guarantee on tour groups if accommodation provided is not exactly what’s in the brochure.
B.C.’s northern tourism stakeholders continue to lobby the provincial government, asking them to reconsider the cutbacks.
Closer to the coast, the Town of Prince Rupert released a report last week that provides projections of tourism and economic downturns.
The report argues that services cuts will “Cause substantial damage to large tourism properties and may permanently remove smaller ones”, that it will lead to “a reduction in long-term overseas tour businesses” and that the “lack of business will eventually result in immediate and widespread job loss in northern B.C.”
Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson says the move is part of the BC Liberal’s all-or-nothing pipeline-based northern economy.
“I think the service cuts are gong to have a cascading effect throughout the northwest,” Donaldson said. “The BC Liberals are putting all their eggs in one basket, ignoring existing jobs in tourism to secure jobs years down the road in the energy sector.”
“Stats Can said B.C. lost 10,400 jobs last year and this government’s response is to take jobs away.”
The report was presented to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, but so far, the lobbying efforts have yet to reverse the provinces decision.
Stone said in a news conference two weeks ago that despite widespread opposition to the plan, reductions will go ahead as proposed, beginning April 28.
Tourism is a billion dollar industry in northern B.C.
Half of travellers using the northern ferry routes also spent time in non-coastal communities.