First the bad, predictable news. COVID-19 cost tourism operators dearly as tourism spending in Canada fell by two-thirds (66.3 per cent) in the second quarter, in the wake of travel restrictions and physical distancing measures across Canada. Compared to the rest of the economy (which contracted by 11.5 per cent in the second quarter), the Canadian tourism sector contracted by 66.4 per cent, with job losses correspondingly higher.
But this grim picture brightens somewhat when held up against the local picture. While granular data is not readily available, Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, points to anecdotal evidence that the worst bypassed Sidney.
“We actually found that there were a fair number of tourists in Sidney,” she said. Smaller destinations did not suffer the same sort of declines that larger centres experienced.
“I know that the hoteliers still struggled a bit, that there were a lot of people being comfortable in trailers or camping,” she said. “So those people don’t tend to spend as much.” This said, local retailers reported numbers that were generally better than expected.
“And I still think heading into the winter, we are actually in a better position than a lot of other communities, because people are looking to this area,” she said.
Snowbirds who would typically go to south are looking to come here for the winter, said Warner. “So we will be seeing a fair amount of their dollars circulating through the community.”
Demand, she added, is off the chart, with local tourism operators having to turn people away. “That’s the sad part,” she said. “We just don’t have options for people on the Peninsula. If you are looking for a business right now, open your field to RVers.”
Samantha Lenz, resort manager for Oceanside RV Resort located on Tswout First Nation, has experienced both ends. “So they (Tswout First Nation) made the decision to close to visitors, so we did not have any recreational campers (during the summer),” she said. “So it was extremely quiet for us.”
Now, Lenz has to turn people away, as interest has “definitely” been higher.
“We are always open year-round, but we were already taking a wait list in August for people who are wanting to stay over the winter, and that is abnormal for us,” she said. “It’s not abnormal to get a call or two a day from people still looking somewhere to stay this winter.”
Lenz said a lot of calls are coming from British Columbia, but also from other parts of the country. “It (the higher demand) is not really us fazing us too much, but the fact that we have to turn people away and can’t help as many people as we would like to is unfortunate. But we are trying to send them to other properties that are also open during the winter who might not have as many people as normally.”
For Lenz, the current demand is just another twist in what has been an eventful year to say the least.
“It was a slow summer and now it is going to be a busy winter, which is adding a bit to the craziness,” she said. “But we are managing through it. “
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