It could be argued that no economic sector has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than tourism.
According to a report issued to Campbell River city council Nov. 30, the tourism industry’s contribution to Canada’s economy through jobs, gross national product (GNP) and tourism spending was down 72 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 versus the same quarter a year earlier. Tourism HR Canada is projecting that employment levels in the industry will not recover to 2019 levels until sometime in 2023.
The report presented to council, however, wasn’t as grim as it could have been, considering how much of the region’s economy is tied to tourism.
The collection of the province’s Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) is used as one metric in determining the strength – and growth/decline – of an area’s tourism economy, as it is revenue generated from a tax on short-term accommodations like hotels. While MRDT doesn’t measure tourism growth as a whole, the report says, “it does provide some evidence tourism has grown, and was on track to continue, before the global health crisis and resulting disruptions.”
And while the provincial average occupancy dropped 41.8 per cent in the first half of 2020, Campbell River’s occupancy rate only declined 27 per cent in that time.
“We were actually predicting a 67 per cent decline,” says Kirsten Soder, executive director of Discover Campbell River. “But what we’re not really happy about is how much the rate is suffering. The average daily rate on a room in 2020 has dropped to $122 a night, compared to Vancouver Island’s $184 average,” meaning Campbell River’s nightly average rate has dropped 13 per cent versus the Island-wide average of five per cent.
Soder also says many local tourism operators – “particularly in the wildlife viewing sector” – are reporting a 70-85 per cent decrease in revenue, and “will certainly need further supports, both financially and strategically.”
But the focus right now really needs to be on the future.
“In our talks with the Tourism Industry Association of BC, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the research they’re doing on sentiment analysis and people’s readiness to travel, the best case scenario is still not looking at U.S. or international tourists returning with any marked increase in 2021,” Soder says.
So local tourism operators, in cooperation with Destination Campbell River, need to look at more targeted marketing to domestic travelers, and being ready to welcome them – whenever they come.
After all, there’s only so much within anyone’s control in this situation. Destination Campbell River certainly can’t control how widespread the distribution and uptake in vaccines is, nor can they control the travel restrictions or safety mandates implemented by various levels of government.
“What is within our control is increasing our reputation,” Soder says. “Knowing that there’s going to be some pent-up demand for travel when the time is right to do so, we’re really focused on building on the momentum and the awareness and the reputation of our destination.”
A big part of that is growing the advocacy of the people who live here, she says.
“We need to make sure that everyone who lives in Campbell River, works in Campbell River and invests in Campbell River understands that they are part of this tourism ecosystem and part of the visitor economy,” Soder says. “We’re really focused on reaching that local audience and letting them know what they can do to support their neighbours and friends that are struggling right now.”
Soder also says there’s a misconception out there that travel is what is spreading this virus, which is increasing the damage to the tourism economy.
“The big message right now is that travel is not to blame for transmission,” Soder says. “Individual behaviour is to blame for transmission. We’re working really hard at all levels of our advocacy partners to make sure that’s well understood.”
And once travel starts increasing again, Soder says, tourism organizations and operators need to be nimble, responsive and responsible in how they encourage people to come to Campbell River.
“Everyone is going to be going after the exact same, smaller pie when it’s appropriate to start promoting travel again,” Soder says. “We’re very glad that we lead with a primarily digital approach, because we’re going to be ready to hit the ground running and scale appropriately into whatever those new markets are as opportunities and travel advisories allow.”