In a normal year, right now we would be seeing the first trickle of summer visitors into the valley. Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Ontarians, Quebecers, Maritimers and other British Columbians, all drawn by the spectacular scenery and myriad recreational opportunities Northwest B.C. has to offer.
That is not going to happen this year. Even as COVID-19 restrictions are slowly being loosened the prospect of international travel, and possibly even interprovincial travel, is still a long way off.
We all know that tourism is an important industry in the area, one of our biggest in fact.
A 2017 Regional District of Bulkley Nechacko report offers some insight into just how important.
In 2015, Smithers and Telkwa welcomed 124,000 people to the valley. They spent nearly $29 million.
While almost all sectors of the B.C. economy have been affected in some way, tourism is perhaps the hardest hit of all. Local numbers are not available, but in March, the province lost 396,000 jobs, more than half of which were in tourism-related businesses.
It will be a long time before we know the true extent of the damage to the local economy, but a recent online survey by the British Columbia Regional Tourism Secretariat paints a grim picture. It found only 37 per cent of B.C. hotels, motels and other tourism businesses believe they can survive through the end of the summer with the physical distancing measures and other operational restrictions currently in place.
Gladys Atrill, executive director of Tourism Smithers estimates their budget, which is funded by the Regional District Municipal Tax (aka “hotel tax”) will be down from $250,000 last year to less than $50,000 this year. They are only keeping afloat because of a $34,000 grant from the province.
The Province is encouraging people planning on vacationing in the coming months to do so within B.C.
We would like to go one step further and suggest local residents should do so within our own backyard.
There are tons of reasons why tens of thousands of people choose to spend at least part of their vacation in the Smithers area.
This summer, let’s all discover (or rediscover) what they are.