(Left to right) Travis Wilson, North Island operations manager; Andrew Wilson, operations and fleet manager; John Wilson, president and CEO; and Samantha Wilson, brand manager. (Photo courtesy Wilson’s Group of Companies)

(Left to right) Travis Wilson, North Island operations manager; Andrew Wilson, operations and fleet manager; John Wilson, president and CEO; and Samantha Wilson, brand manager. (Photo courtesy Wilson’s Group of Companies)

Greater Victoria tourism industry ‘can’t wait any longer’ for financial aid

Saanich mayor, business owners call on provincial, federal governments for tourism-specific aid

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes is throwing his weight behind the Greater Victoria tourism industry and calling on the provincial and federal governments to roll out a tourism-specific aid package for businesses floundering without tourists.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been “devastating” for the tourism industry, said John Wilson, president and CEO of the Wilson’s Group of Companies – a Saanich-based family business that operates sightseeing tour buses, airport shuttles and other transportation services across the Island.

READ ALSO: Harbour authority CEO charts course for return of cruise ships to post-pandemic Victoria

Wilson has been in the industry for 35 years and has never experienced anything like this.

“It’s very, very scary,” he said, adding that he’s seen business drop 98 per cent since March 15. In that time, Wilson had to lay off nearly 300 employees – whom he refers to as “extended family.”

Wilson’s not alone – nearly 22,000 south Island workers have been laid off due to the pandemic, said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria. He added that about 40 per cent of residents work in the tourism industry in some way.

READ ALSO: B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

On May 27, Premier John Horgan extended the provincial state of emergency by two weeks, stating that there’s “no end in sight.” This comment had the tourism industry quaking, Wilson said.

The entire tourism season – May through September – will be lost, Wilson said, noting that thousands rely on summer revenue to pay their winter bills.

“We can’t wait any longer” for provincial or federal aid, he said, adding that without a tourism-specific relief package in the next 14 to 30 days, B.C. could be seeing the “decimation” of an industry that brings in more than $2 billion to Greater Victoria alone.

Wilson hopes to see a package that provides the industry with funds in the form of grants or interest-free loans to ensure that businesses are still in operation when the tourists eventually return.

READ ALSO: Economic impact of COVID-19 on Victoria’s tourism industry will be ‘devastating,’ experts say

Tourism could play a big role in B.C.’s recuperation process, Wilson said, but without help, even the most established tourism companies could collapse – companies he feels can thrive again as long as they’re still around when tourists return.

This is about much more than just increased outdoor patio space for restaurants, Haynes said. He said while the provincial and federal governments understand what the tourism industry is facing, swift action is required to address the “acute, critical need.”

Nursey said the tourism industry has been told to market to locals and rely on B.C. residents to make up for the lack of international travel – but feels this “isn’t realistic.”

READ ALSO: Tourism task force creates 18-month survival strategy for Greater Victoria

In a good year, Greater Victoria sees 2.4 million B.C. travellers and in order to make up for the lost revenue, that number would need to grow to 6 million this summer, Wilson said. He pointed out that everyone has felt the financial impacts of COVID-19 so an influx of domestic tourists is unlikely.

In early May, 12 members of the local tourism industry – including Wilson and Nursey – formed the Greater Victoria Tourism Rescue and Recovery Task Force to come up with a plan for the next 18 months, outline the required government aid and spread the word about what the industry is facing.

The task force has reached out to every level of government in hopes of keeping the dialogue open until help comes, Wilson said.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 emergency wage subsidy benefit to be extended three more months

Nursey said the existing aid-packages such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy – recently extended to Aug. 31 – are beneficial but emphasized the industry has been waiting for weeks to see tourism-specific aid. So far, none has come and “collapse is imminent” for even the most “well-established” companies, he said.

Wilson is hopeful that by spring 2021, his company will still be around to continue to play a role in the community. He’s “humbled” to be asking for assistance but emphasized that the end is in sight.

“All we can do is fight the good fight and go down swinging,” he said.


@devonscarlett
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

CoronavirusSaanichTourismTourism Victoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open to Jan. 15

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Most Read