Tourism stakeholders commend B.C.’s Restart Plan

Pictured here, Sun Peaks in busier times. Photo by Kyle James.

Sun Peaks’ business leaders are praising the provincial government’s Restart Plan, saying it provides a degree of certainty around the lifting of key restrictions that is much appreciated. 

Last week, the provincial government announced its four-step Restart Plan. 

Step 1, which took effect on May 25, gave the green light to regional travel, with a return to provincial travel in Step 2. 

Step 2 will take effect as early as June 15, when at least 65 per cent of the province’s adult population is vaccinated with dose 1 and cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are declining. 

Step 1 and 2 also allow for restaurants, bars and pubs to re-open for indoor dining, with groups of as many as six people permitted to meet indoors.

The Restart Plan comes as a positive development for Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR), which is set to open the mountain for hiking and mountain biking on June 18. 

Aidan Kelly, chief marketing officer for the resort, said the plan—which outlines specific benchmarks for each stage—gives the resort a roadmap for the next several months. 

He said prior to the announcement the resort had been planning as though it will be a busy summer, and that it is ready to make adjustments to operations if need be. 

International tourists—as well as the lucrative bus tour business—will not be coming to the resort this season.

The resort is therefore counting on strong domestic demand to keep its restaurants, golf course, and bike park busy. 

Kelly said the resort is in a good position when it comes to staffing levels. 

“It’s a lot easier to kind of try and figure out a way to scale things back a little bit versus ramp things up, so we’re prepared and organized,” said Kelly.  

Arlene Schieven, president and CEO of Tourism Sun Peaks (TSP), said the Restart Plan comes as great news and she is hopeful the resort can build on last year’s summer season, which proved surprisingly strong given the COVID-19 restrictions that were still in place. 

“Each of the steps has been really well outlined, and that will serve everyone,”  said Schieven. “I think people are really looking forward to returning to visit friends and relatives.” 

Schieven said TSP shifted to regionally marketing the resort when Step 1 was announced, and will move to provincial marketing once Step 2 is announced. 

She added the projected date for the lifting of provincial travel restrictions—which bar British Columbians from leaving their health authority region for non-essential regions—is in line with when the mountain opens and the spring is typically a quiet period for the resort anyway. 

Schieven added she was pleasantly surprised with some of the announcements around group gatherings as well. In Step 2, a maximum of 50 people will be permitted to get together for outdoor social gatherings, and a maximum of 50 people for seated indoor organized gatherings (banquet halls, movie theatres, live theatre) with safety protocols.

Local small businesses and the hotel sector are also breathing a sigh of relief. 

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality Mayor Al Raine said while nothing is for sure, the guidelines will encourage people to start thinking about and booking their summer vacations. 

“It’s not precise news…But it’s likely by the end of the summer that we could be almost back to normal,” said Raine.  

George Terwiel, owner of Lone Wolf Gallery, said he is most excited about the lifting of travel restrictions within regions of the province. He noted last year August was the best August they have on record. Terwiel estimated around 80 per cent of his customers were visiting the resort for the first time.

“It was a new market, and we did super well,” said Terwiel. 

In a May 25 press conference, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it’s important for the province to slowly reopen given the fact that case clusters could arise. 

“We’ll be staying flexible because we know this virus still has some tricks up its sleeve,” said Henry. 

Henry was, however, encouraging of what the future has in store, opening up her press conference by saying she had been waiting for a long time to be making such an announcement. 

“I don’t see a situation where we’re going backwards unless things change very dramatically,” said Henry. “We never say never, but the plan is to keep moving forward.”

After nearly a year and a half of restrictions, the Restart Plan is being celebrated across the province.

“I think there’s just a much stronger sense of hope and optimism that exists today versus yesterday,” said Kelly, speaking a day after the announcement.

“And I think you can’t really understate the importance of that. I think that’s really important right now for both businesses and individuals.”

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