The province has launched a $50 million grant program aimed at helping B.C.’s major “anchor” tourist attractions and tour bus companies weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark made the announcement as beleaguered tourism operators try to get a handle on what their normally busy summer season will look like in 2021.
Restrictions on travel and gatherings brought in under the province’s emergency COVID-19 “circuit breaker” plan last month are set to expire May 24, and so far 56 per cent of eligible British Columbians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But Horgan cautioned that the positive signs don’t mean the virus will cease to be a major concern in the months to come.
“We are right on track but I don’t want to give false hope,” he said. “I’moptimistic we’ll have a much better summer this year than last year, but I’m under no illusion that we’re going to snap our fingers … and be back to where we were.”
Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix are scheduled to meet next week with possible details around reopening the province to come.
Mark said the grant program announced today has the potential of helping 40 rural anchor attractions and an additional 30 in Metro Vancouver.
“The pandemic has illuminated how important anchor attractions and tour bus companies are to our communities and our tourism ecosystem,” she said.
The grant program is meant to support “turnstile” attractions like amusement parks, wildlife parks, botanical gardens, heritage institutions, museums, galleries and science centres.
Major urban attractions that receive 75,000 or more visitors per year can receive up to $1 million.
Rural anchor attractions that get 15,000-plus visitors per year are eligible for up to $500,000.
Tour bus companies with an annual ridership of 30,000 or more are also eligible for a maximum of $500,000.
Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition said last month it needs $8 million in emergency funding from the province to survive.
Horgan said the PNE is eligible to apply for the anchor attractions program, although according to the criteria, the PNE would only be eligible for $1 million.
Horgan suggested the City of Vancouver should step up and that there were other COVID-19 relief programs available.
Funding not enough
Vivek Sharmachair of the B.C. Tourism Association and CEO of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, said the funding is welcome news for the businesses that will qualify.
“As an industry, we are thankful for the support that the government continues to provide,” he told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.
However, he said, it’s not enough money.
“There’s still more operators, both anchor and non-anchor attractions that continue to suffer because of a lack of fiscal sustainability,” he said.
“We really need to start thinking strategically and thinking forward as to how we can bring this industry back on its feet so that through a reopening plan … we can start contributing back into the visitor economy and the larger B.C. economy.”
He said his organization will continue to ask for support for ongoing expenses all tourism businesses are faced with, such as property tax, utility bills and insurance.
“When the time is right, we want to make sure those businesses are ready and are in a position that they can open up and start generating taxation dollars for our visitor economy.”
This article bywas first published by CBC News.