Tourism industry looks forward to easing of restrictions for expected peak season

 Friday, February 18, 2022 



The first cruise ship in two years is scheduled to set sail in early April for a round trip from Vancouver to Alaska and the tourism industry and port authorities are expecting more cruise ships to pass through B.C. ports than they did in 2019.

It’s one of the leading signs that B.C. is expected to rebound after being gutted by COVID-19 over the last two years, according to the tourism industry. It hopes a relaxation of pandemic restrictions this week and the dropping of the federal requirement for a PCR test for incoming visitors will help tourism rebound this year.

Each cruise ship that docks in Vancouver is worth $3.3 million to the local economy, and the Port of Vancouver says there are more than 300 cruise ships expected this year at B.C. ports. That’s an eight per cent increase over the 288 ships in 2019, a record year for the industry.

“That is absolutely significant,” said Royce Chwin, CEO of Destination Vancouver, a tourism industry association. “We’ve got 317 ships scheduled to come to Vancouver in 2022 and that is worth $2.2 billion in economic activity in Vancouver. That will be a big driver to get back to the $14 billion that tourism generates in Metro Vancouver.”

He said this week’s announcements by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to remove restrictions for indoor gatherings and venues, including bars, nightclubs and restaurants, will also help rebuild tourism.

“These announcements were really important and really encouraging,” he said.

He said although uncertainty remains about the future of COVID, “we have learned a lot from these restrictions and how COVID-19 can be managed.”

The tourism industry in B.C. that was worth $22 billion in 2019 shrank by 70 per cent in 2020, said Maya Lange, vice-president of global marketing for Destination B.C. She said the numbers aren’t in yet, but it’s expected 2021’s revenues will also be down 70 per cent over 2019.

The industry is seeing positive signs that tourism will be strong this year, based on online searches and news from travel agents who say they’re getting a lot of customers whose trips were cancelled in 2020 by a worldwide shutdown rebooking for 2022.

“And they are seeing a lot of new bookings,” she said.

That interest is coming from overseas, which is a good indicator of a robust year because international travellers drop an average $1,500 per trip, compared with British Columbians, who spend on average $300 when they travel within the province, she said.

Destination B.C., responsible for marketing B.C. to Canada and the world, is about to launch a widespread mostly digital campaign over the next few weeks in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Washington state, California, the U.K. and Australia, she said.

She welcomed replacing the PCR test with the rapid antigen test for incoming travellers on March 1 by Ottawa.

“It will absolutely help with recovery,” said Lange. “Canada was one of the last countries that held the higher standard of a PCR test, which was not only costly, but quite difficult to get” because it needed to be done within 72 hours of boarding a plane.

The cruise industry’s reputation was hurt early in the pandemic with stories of widespread outbreaks and passengers forced to quarantine on-board, and the industry has changed, said Sanjay Goel of Cruise Connections in B.C.
He said he took five cruises last year and the buffets were replaced by table service and there were fewer passengers on-board, for safe distancing.

“Right now there is no safer place to be than on a cruise ship because everyone is doubly vaccinated and the staff is vaccinated” and tested regularly, he said. “It’s safer than going to the grocery store.”

And he said the ships are “limiting the number of passengers for the first few months, but by (the third quarter), by July and August, they intend to sail on full capacity,” he said.

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