As the government puts in place measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the global pandemic, the local tourism industry is feeling the effects of people staying home.
Tourism Kamloops CEO Beverley DeSantis said the “whole economy” will be impacted by the pandemic, trickling down from events like festivals, concerts and tournaments to hotels, restaurants, bars, gas stations, malls, stores and services.
“All of this has got this ripple effect,” DeSantis said, noting businesses that have yet to feel the impact will eventually. “Are you really going to want to go get your hair done or your manicure done? It’s hitting everybody. I don’t think that anybody is immune.”
KTW has been speaking with businesses in the tourism industry to understand the impact, which includes lost revenue, staff layoffs, creative solutions to remain open for business and uncertainty heading into the future.
EVENTS LOST OVERNIGHT, FUTURE REMAINS UNCERTAIN
Mike Miltimore of Lee’s Music said COVID-19 came out of nowhere and hit hard.
Last week, the company — which provides audio-visual equipment such as stages, lighting, signage, microphones and speakers for gatherings of usually more than 50 people, which is the limit set out by the government — lost $50,0000 to $60,000 worth of events over an 18-hour period.
Miltimore called it “horrific.”
“Our boat stopped immediately,” he said. “Now we’re sitting here, literally 95 per cent of our revenue has stopped.”
GK Sound owner Greg Klohn experienced the same. As of Thursday last week, he said two months of events cancelled within 24 hours.
So far, he has had to lay off 10 people.
“It’s significant,” Klohn said. “We’re still trying to figure it out. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of contracts over the next couple of months.”
Kamloops musician and promoter JP Lancaster said tour dates from Kamloops to Toronto are being cancelled .
March and April are a write-off and Lancaster said he empathizes with musicians who managed to break through with no other jobs on the side, but now have no other source of income.
“What do you do when you don’t have any other source of work lined up?” he asked.
Depending on the venue and size of the event, many people are involved in staging a concert.
A music show may include not only the talent, but also artist representation, bartenders and security.
Miltimore said his business will rely on diversity to weather the storm. Lee’s Music also provides music lessons, sells instruments and manufactures Riversong guitars.
Miltimore hopes people will turn to music as a form of comfort and inexpensive entertainment, while at home.
Klohn, meanwhile, doesn’t have that luxury and is concerned about the future.
Events — festivals, concerts and corporate functions — take between 10 to 12 months to plan. When they restart, how long before money would start flowing back in?
“I think it will take a long time to kick start our industry again because all these events, it’s not like a restaurant, where you open the doors and you can start having cashflow again,” Klohn said.
“It will take us months after we have a green light to actually get moving again, as well. It could be an interesting year for us.”
HOTEL HIRING FREEZE, 50 PER CENT DROP EXPECTED
Tyson Andrykew, regional director for Sandman Hotels, said mass cancellations are occurring in hotels across all sectors.
Andrykew said cancellations range from group events to leisure trips and corporate travel.
He said as extreme measures were announced by government last week, most cancellations were thought to have already taken place, but they continue this week.
“The impact, we just don’t know yet,” he said.
No layoffs had occurred at the downtown Sandman Signature Hotel as of Monday, but hiring plans leading up to the busy summer season have been suspended, equating to about 12 jobs.
At another hotel, management has been meeting with staff one-on-one, with the hopes of mitigating impacts on full-time employees and determining if employment insurance is better for others.
Best Western Plus Kamloops Hotel manager Tim Rodgers said that as services decrease — the hotel has closed its fitness and business rooms and shut down its buffet — the hotel has ramped up cleaning efforts and employees will be doing extra work around the hotel to keep busy as occupancy numbers decline.
Rodgers said most cancellations have occurred for stays in the next 30 days, but some are into the summer.
“There’s going to be at least a 50 per cent drop in the city,” Rodgers said, referring to occupancy rates across all Kamloops hotels.
RESTAURANTS FIND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre food and beverage manager Nicole St. Godard said business at the conference centre is “non-existent” due to the ban on groups larger than 50.
As a result, staff are being laid off and restaurant hours have been reduced.
“It’s a yucky time for us,” St. Godard said.
Tables have been taken out of the restaurant to promote social distancing. Fast food chains, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, have taken similar measures and have prohibited customers from bringing in to-go mugs from home
The Dorian Greek House took to Facebook to tell customers the downtown restaurant remains open, with intensified cleaning and incentives to order takeout, including a discount and “drive-up service.”
“We will do whatever we can to make you feel safe, that means reduced and spaced seating, online payment and drive up service, where we will run the food out to your car at the front of our restaurant when requested,” the Facebook post states.
“These times are extremely tough for small businesses like ours and some of us may never be able to recover. We ask you to stay supportive, healthy and safe.”
WINERIES SET TO OPEN AS TOURS CANCEL
As Kamloops wineries are set to open for the season, DiVine Tours shuttle service, which provides wine tours in the Thompson-Okanagan, has temporarily shut down.
“There is no business because we’re hunkering down,” owner Terri Axani said.
“We’re staying at home and even the groups we have coming up all weekend and next weekend, we can’t accommodate.”
Axani said wedding guests have cancelled wine tours as far ahead as July. As a small business with three staff, Axani said it has a “huge impact for everyone.”
“The trickle down is massive, from wedding planners to brewpubs,” she said. “Everyone is going to feel that and, hopefully, we can all get through it together.”
As of Tuesday, Privato Vineyard and Winery and Harper’s Trail had posted online that they would be opening for the season at the end of the month and into early April.
“We are increasing the cleaning and sanitization of all surfaces and touch points,” reads the Harper’s Trail Facebook page.
“We are educating our staff on these protocols and encouraging vigilant hand washing.”
TOURISM KAMLOOPS, TRUDEAU PLEDGE SUPPORT
Uncertainty remains over when the city will be hardest hit and how long it will take to recover.
DeSantis of Tourism Kamloops said uncertainty over timelines is making people nervous, noting Tourism Kamloops met earlier this week with leaders in the business community, with plans to provide accurate information, tools — funding links and information about employment insurance information, health and safety and liability — and marketing tailored for when recovery begins.
Opportunities in the future will include Kamloops’ outdoors, solitary activities like mountain biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing, water sports and golfing.
“We’re not going quiet and we still have our whole marketing team working, planning, continuing to do what we do,” DeSantis said.
“That is, as soon as the world is ready, we need them to know we’re open for business, we’re a healthy safe place to be.”
Asked if she supports a complete shutdown, as has been seen in other communities, DeSantis said it is important to listen to experts and government officials, who are making those decisions on a day-to-day basis.
During his address to the country on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also pledged support for businesses.
“We don’t know exactly how long this is going to take, whether it will be weeks or months, but we know that every step of the way we will be there to support each other because that’s what Canadians do,” Trudeau said.