Province rolls out additional relief funding for B.C. tourism sector

Province previously announced $100m in support in September

Vancouver Aquarium | Photo: Rob Kruyt, BIV

Amid border restrictions that have thrown B.C. tourism operators into hibernation mode for much of 2020, the province is rolling out previously promised relief funding for businesses looking to survive the pandemic.

The Tuesday (December 22) launch of the relief funding stream comes after Victoria announced in September it was earmarking $100 million to support the hard-hit sector.

At that time, the province had allocated $50 million towards a tourism taskforce while promising a total of $100 million would go towards boosting the West Coast tourism industry.

Another $50 million of that commitment was confirmed during a Tuesday media briefing, in which an additional $5 million in support was announced for Indigenous Tourism B.C.

The $100-million relief funding is being delivered through the province’s small and medium-sized business recovery grant program, which can provide up to $45,000 in grants to eligible businesses.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the grant program maxed out at $40,000.

Changes to the grant program are in effect as of Tuesday, while the additional support for Indigenous businesses will roll out in early 2021.

The $105 million in funding (including the $5 million in support of Indigenous businesses) comes following the release of the tourism taskforce’s December 9 report to government.

“This is urgent, emergency funding that must go out now to preserve the maximum number of tourism businesses and jobs, keep the workforce connected to the industry, and recognize the role of tourism operators as significant economic contributors in their regions,” the report stated, referring to the recommended $95 million emergency fund that ultimately garnered $105 million. 

“It will bridge the gap until federal programs launch and expand eligibility to tourism businesses excluded from previous federal and provincial emergency funds. It will also bridge to the next provincial budget, where it is anticipated additional funds will be made available to the tourism industry.”

The taskforce also recommended the development of an online safety certificate program and prioritizing “innovative approaches” to lifting travel restrictions.

“The task force heard many times that the blanket 14-day quarantine deters travel even when it is safe to do so. Other jurisdictions have implemented a risk-based approach that is more conducive to travel, such as rapid-testing trials/protocols and healthy travel corridors within defined bubbles,” the report stated. 

“These targeted approaches to travel restrictions and risk assessment could allow for the safe movement of people domestically and internationally and restore confidence and social license.”

More than 160 industry stakeholders were consulted for the report to government.

“Stakeholders said that keeping their businesses open and their people safely employed and/or available when demand resumes were the priorities. $50 million is not enough to do this effectively, especially in light of the number of tourism operators, including Indigenous operators, who have not yet received funding because of eligibility criteria and the variability of the types of businesses and make-up of the tourism industry workforce,” the report stated.