Citing the most challenging circumstances ever faced by B.C.’s tourism industry, the province has agreed to kick in another $50 million to a provincial grant program to help small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the heels of a Tourism Task Force report that called for matching the $50 million pledged for a small business grant program introduced in the fall, the province has doubled its commitment to the sector and added another $5 million for Indigenous Tourism British Columbia.
Tourism businesses will now be eligible for up to $45,000 in grant money. Previously the cap was $40,000. Since it was first announced in the fall, there have been more than 2,200 applications for the small business grants.
While Tuesday’s $105 million announcement was largely welcomed by the industry, it left some tourism insiders hoping there’s more to come as some of the biggest players in the industry, hardest hit by the pandemic, have been struggling and unable to get any help.
Paul Nursey, chief executive of Destination Tourism Victoria, said the funding leaves a hole in the industry as companies with more than 149 employees are excluded from accessing the grants.
“It’s great for small businesses such as shops, restaurants and this is helpful,” he said. “But a huge gap remains in the strategically important demand-driving businesses and important transportation providers.”
That includes companies like Harbour Air, all major hotels and large whale-watching operations.
“It looks as though a significant portion of the industry continues to be neglected,” he said.
The B.C. Motor Coach Coalition has said total revenues have dropped by 95 per cent this year. It said without improved liquidity, some of its member companies will struggle to survive the next three months.
The sector has asked the federal and provincial governments for commercial rent relief, support of as much as $50,000 per bus, extension of the wage subsidy until international travel, cruise ships and event restrictions are lifted, a grant system that’s pared back as revenue returns, and flexible insurance options.
So far there has been no action.
In a statement, Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the funding should help people get through the next few months. There was no mention of what further relief may be in the works.
According to the provincial Tourism Ministry there have already been measures directed at larger companies, such as reductions in property tax bills and deferrals of other taxes, while Ottawa has offered credit facilities and extending the wage subsidy.
Anthony Everett, chief executive at Tourism Vancouver Island, said the announcement may not have everything the industry needed, but it had enough to make a big impact.
He said the fact the government has streamlined the application process, and opened up the grant program to more companies and sole proprietorships, will have immediate effect on the Island.
“That was our biggest concern, the way the program was initially designed made it difficult for businesses,” said Everett, who noted his organization had been working with hundreds of companies needing funding relief.
Tamara Vrooman, chair of the Tourism Task Force and chief executive of Vancouver International Airport, called Tuesday’s announcement a good first step to ensure the industry is well-positioned for recovery.