So far 17 conferences have been cancelled or rescheduled after WHO announced a pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)

Economic impact of COVID-19 on Victoria’s tourism industry will be ‘devastating,’ experts say

Destination Greater Victoria CEO expects losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars

Victoria’s tourism industry is taking a massive hit in light of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic due to COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus.

Destination Greater Victoria (DGV) had been looking forward to its busiest year for conferences with 65 booked, but since last week’s pandemic announcement there have been mass cancellations.

“So far we’ve had 17 cancellations, with four re-booked and three working to finalize and 10 up in the air,” said DGV CEO Paul Nursey. “I suspect the next three to 10 months will have a devastating effect on the economy.”

ALSO READ: Michelle Obama talk in Victoria postponed amidst COVID-19 concerns

Nursey estimated the region will take a hit in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Our team is working day and night to try to re-book as many conferences as we can.”

Nursey worked with Tourism Vancouver during both 9/11 and the SARS epidemic, and is trying to apply what he learned then to now.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult,” he said. “But the best thing we can do is be task-focused, be nimble and just get through this.”

Conferences are being booked ahead into the next quarter whenever possible, but in the meantime Nursey is worried for local businesses and restaurants, which rely on visitors to sustain them in the summer.

“We need policy makers and all levels of government to step in and support them,” he said. “We need people to recognize the importance of the tourism industry – it’s never recognized until it’s gone.”

Conferences aren’t the only thing affected; the federal government announced on Friday morning that all port calls from cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers will be delayed until July 1, a move that the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority estimated would cost the local economy upwards of $65 million.

ALSO READ: Canada will ban cruise ships with over 500 people from docking until July

At a local level, businesses partnered with the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) have reported ongoing issues to Bruce Williams, director of engagement.

“We are hearing varied unique strategies from out members,” Williams said. “One member created a temporary basis paid sick leave for all employees… another said supply chain and movement of goods have been impacted, while another said they are cancelling discretionary gatherings and events.”

Downtown Victoria Business Association executive director Jeff Bray told Black Press Media that many businesses are holding off on their summer hires as they wait to see what will happen.

“We’ll watch and wait,” Bray said. “It’s a nervous time for some of our businesses for sure.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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