Hospitality industry urges Ottawa to extend financial support

Tourism Minister Boissonnault says to wait for April 7 budget

Cathedral Mountain Lodge is in B.C. near the Alberta border | Cathedral Mountain Lodge on Instagram

While Canadian tourism operators are excited about changes on April 1 that enable visitors to Canada to enter without needing to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, many continue to have balance sheets that gush red ink.

That means many want the federal government to extend its Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program (THRP) until the end of September, from what is now a May 7 end date.

“Many still need that help,” said Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC) CEO Walt Judas told BIV.

“If the program cuts off entirely, in May, that's going to be problematic as operators aren't yet up to full speed, and probably won't be through the summer because we've got a late start to international visitation and it'll take a while to build back the industry.”

Judas said some of the hardest hit tourism businesses are seasonal. Those ventures may have one good month, and then many months when operators barely scrape by.

The amount of support that eligible businesses receive through the program was also slashed in half – to 37.5% of the revenue loss, from what was 75% of the revenue loss, earlier this month. TIABC wants the higher support level to be reinstated.

BIV today asked federal Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault, who is also associate minister of finance, if his government would extend and top-up the program but he said he was not able to provide any clarity in advance of the April 7 budget.

“Supports continue to be in place, and the big packet of services, if you will, were always meant to be temporary,” Boissonnault said. “For the rest of the economy those [government support programs] have been wrapped up.”

Boissonnault said he has heard from tourism operators who operate seasonal ventures and he is aware that there are “policy gaps” in government support. He then reiterated that he was not able to promise any extension in support timelines for now. \

“I've spoken to people in the industry,” he said. “I've definitely had these conversations with finance officials, and the deputy prime minister, and so we'll leave it there for today.”

In addition to wanting Ottawa to expend its THRP, Judas and his industry association is also calling on the federal government to lower the eligibility threshold to get funding. That eligibility now requires business owners to have suffered at least a 40% drop in revenue between March 2020, and February 2021. TIABC is urging the government to drop that threshold to be a 20% drop in revenue.

The most recent monthly data for visitor entries to Canada is from December, when 155,917 international visitors spent at least one night in Canada after entering via B.C. That is up a staggering 830.3%, compared with December 2020, but it is down 62.8% from December 2019, before the pandemic descended.