VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government has added $55 million to a grant relief fund to help tourism businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said Thursday the additional cash follows recommendations of a task force report to immediately launch a $105-million fund to help the tourism sector.
The relief fund more than doubles the $50 million for tourism announced in September by the provincial government in its economic recovery plan.
"When we think about tourism, we're thinking about destinations," Mark said at a news conference. "We're thinking about experiences. We're thinking about filling our tank and getting away, and we can't do that under COVID-19 and the travel restrictions and we acknowledge that as a government."
Tourism task force chairwoman Tamara Vrooman said the relief fund provides a first step to positioning the industry for recovery in the COVID-19 era.
"Many of the businesses had a tough summer and tough fall and now we're going into a tough winter, and so the emergency funding to bridge those very vital businesses is to ensure that when the tourists come back, the businesses are there to welcome them with employees who are very happy to work in the sector," she said.
The government appointed the 12-member task force last September to make recommendations to support a strong tourism recovery from COVID-19 and strengthen the industry's long-term competitiveness.
The report says tourism contributes more than $20.5 billion to B.C.'s economy and employs more than 160,000 people.
"Tourism is a microcosm of B.C.: it has big and small businesses, large revenues and small, a diverse population and a love of our province, but at its core, tourism is a people business," the report says. "With emergency funding now, we can continue to deliver the benefits of this excellence into the future."
Mark said the fund will include the provision of $5 million to Indigenous Tourism B.C. to help administer relief grants to Indigenous tourism operations.
The Opposition Liberals said hard-hit tourism operators have been waiting months for government help and Mark's announcement only offers more delays and red tape.
"Sadly, today's news has come months too late for the many tourism businesses that have already been forced to close their doors for good," said Opposition tourism critic Teresa Wat in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020.
The Canadian Press