A 60 per cent drop in tourism to the region is expected for the coming year, according to the executive director of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism at an April 20 city council meeting.
Dianna Ducs said about two per cent of hotel rooms in the Nelson area are occupied and that Nelson hotels and restaurants in the region, pre-COVID-19, employed an estimated 2,300 people.
She told council that her organization is not encouraging people to come to Nelson at the moment, but when the economy starts to recover it will encourage local travel.
“We will focus on a 200-to-400 kilometre radius and staying within Canada, initially. We are going to encourage people to travel close to home. We are not going to branch out into the U.S. right away – that is not on our radar. And we will monitor all of this because things change every week.”
She said her organization will promote the region, not just the city.
“We could encourage people to just do the loop, Nelson to North Kootenay Lake and over to the East Shore and down to Wynndel.”
When the economy opens up, growth will be slow.
“It is not going to spike right up,” Ducs said.
The business landscape in Nelson could look very different in the coming year, based on Ducs’ conversations with many business owners.
“If as many businesses that say they might not make it don’t make it, Baker Street will be pretty boarded up.”
Tourism organizations such as NKLT receive much of their funding from a provincial two per cent tax on hotels. Recently the province allowed hotels to defer these payments, but one of the results is impoverished tourism organizations. Ducs said NKLT won’t receive any payment until November and even then it will be very small.
Ducs said one of NKLT’s important activities currently is the printing and distribution of its Open For Business poster, displayed on the street by businesses that want to show they are open, printed large enough to see from a passing car.
She also said she is publicizing extraordinary actions and events in Nelson that are COVID-related, such as the Hume Hotel’s offering of free third-floor accommodation for health care workers.
“We would love for [potential future] visitors to notice it and then one day to say, ‘Hey, remember that hotel that did that really generous act?’”
City manager Kevin Cormack emphasized the importance of tourism to the B.C economy, quoting a report from the B.C. Economic Development Association.
The report states that tourism leads the province’s annual GDP at $9 billion, followed by mining at $4.9 billion, oil and gas at $3.7 billion, and forestry at $1.8 billion.
The report estimates that under a best-case scenario of lockdown until June and international travel restricted until the fall, accommodation across the province would decrease by 45 per cent, food services by 33 per cent, arts/entertainment/recreation by 60 per cent, and transit/scenic/sightseeing by 20 per cent.
Under a more likely scenario in which restaurants and bars were closed until late summer or fall, and international travel restricted until the end of 2020, those reductions would approximately double.
“These numbers are so sobering that they are hard to absorb,” Councillor Jesse Woodward said, echoing the reaction of Ducs and the other members of council.
Ducs said that regardless of what happens, her job is to educate local people, attract tourists for the future, and encourage local shopping.
“We will do whatever we can do help increase the amount of people that come through their shops in a safe way when it is appropriate to do so,” she said.