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Travel restrictions cause flood of tourism cancellations

"When it's safe to reopen again, we hope we'll see those folks rebook their trips."
tofino
Chesterman Beach at Tofino.

Beaches in tourism communities on the west coast of the Island were quiet over the weekend and hoteliers were busy rescheduling guests — signs that people are respecting the public health order not to travel, officials said Monday.

Calls to hotels and resorts were met with busy signals and messages for patience in getting through as those with travel plans kept lines busy making changes.

“It’s had a dramatic effect,” said Tofino Mayor Dan Law. “There are still people here from away, but the numbers are clearly lower.”

Law said it’s evident the latest travel orders — put in place amid a surge in COVID-19 cases — have had more of an impact than previous restrictions, with traffic thinning to a trickle in the popular resort town.

The restrictions, issued Friday, prohibit non-essential travel between Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Interior until after the May long weekend. People have also been asked to stay close to home.

Law said there is more a sense of urgency to get a handle on the virus and vaccines and there isn’t any “resentment” between locals and visitors as seen last spring and summer.

“We all have to do our part now because tourism is such an important part of our economy,” he said.

Lara Kemp, assistant general manager at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort — the largest hotel in Ucluelet, with 133 rooms — said there have been “many” cancellations and rebookings since Friday.

“We’ve been through many different challenges over the past year, and we’re just rolling with it and making sure our community is safe,” she said. “We look forward to the time when it’s safer for people to travel.”

Vaccine rollouts continue in smaller tourism-reliant communities, including Ucluelet and Tofino, where Law said many in the community have already had their shots. He’s also heard more pop-up vaccination clinics will be appearing as the towns gear up for the influx of seasonal workers.

Mandy Farmer, chief executive of the Accent Inns and Hotel Zed properties, said the company is being “incredibly flexible” with cancellations. Farmer opened her latest retro-brand Hotel Zed in Tofino last year.

“When it’s safe to reopen again, we hope we’ll see those folks rebook their trips,” Farmer said. “Nothing is more important to me than the safety of our staff, guests and communities.”

On Quadra Island, off Campbell River, We Wai Kai Chief Ronnie Chickite said traffic volumes were down and the lodge operated by his First Nation is rescheduling bookings, though the campsite is still busy.

He said the health order “is an ask” and the First Nation hasn’t refused people campsites. “We’re just asking that you don’t go to Quadra,” he said.

The Island is a popular tourism destination for its First Nations culture and recreational opportunities.

Chickite and Jim Abram, Strathcona Regional District representative for the Discovery Islands, are asking visitors to stay away for now.

Abram said Quadra has “limited resources and its share of vulnerable residents” and is at risk from “people who may unknowingly travel with the infection.”

The community is asking anyone thinking of visiting Quadra to make plans for when it is safer to travel — a request Abram said many provincial tourism organizations and other small communities have also made.

“This should be a clear signal that it is time to put the brakes on tourism during this public health emergency,” he said. “We have gone from bad to worse over the past year and it is time to do more to stop this deadly pandemic.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com