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The pandemic balancing act for small businesses

 | January 25, 2021
Jean Strong

In January of 2020 I welcomed my first guests to my condo-turned-AirBnB; by March all of the few bookings I had were cancelled with full refunds. 

2020 proved not to be the best year to try and profit off of, or even break even from, a vacation rental. 

Through the spring and summer of 2020 I rented the space to a doctor, who came from the Lower Mainland to work in Kamloops during the pandemic, for about the cost of my monthly strata fees because I didn’t want it to sit empty. I went into the winter cautiously optimistic with a decent amount of bookings. 

Unfortunately that didn’t last long. As more travel restriction recommendations came in it seemed that each time Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke my phone would light up with more cancellations within minutes. 

It was bittersweet. On one hand I was glad to see those who had booked from places like Calgary and Vancouver make the right choice. On the other hand it hurt the bank account, especially after months of renovations and upgrades. 

I’m the first to admit my privilege. First for being able to purchase a home in the resort to begin with, and then to be able to (try) to make it more of a business. But dang, it does still hurt when that’s shut down so swiftly. 

I considered renting it long-term for the season, locking in a year lease and not worrying about it. After my ongoing coverage of housing issues I know better than anyone how badly it’s needed. But in an strategic effort to earn back even some of the money put into it I decided on keeping the nightly rental bookings. 

As the season goes on bookings have come, and gone, from Kamloops and around the province, and I’ve been faced with reckoning with the idea that I could be the one who hosts someone that brings the virus to the community while still wanting to keep the little income there is coming in to pay for big ticket items like a hot water tank, dishwasher and hot tub lid, not to mention the regular ongoing expenses. Short-term rental owners aren’t eligible for any government supports so far.

For a while my out-of-town bookings cancelled themselves, but last weekend guests arrived from the Lower Mainland. In their first message to me they explained they were visiting for business, and then staying to ski for a day or two.

If I’m feeling stuck in an ethical dilemma and questioning every booking I take, I can only imagine how small businesses around the village are feeling. 

One dinner out is all it takes to overhear tables of guests tell servers they’re visiting from several hours drive away and watch as said server bites their tongue. 

When I’m out of the house, which isn’t often these days, it’s easy to see business owners and employees struggling with providing the friendly guest experience Sun Peaks is known for while greeting some obviously non-local tourists. 

We’re all stuck between a rock, needing to keep the lights on and food on the table, and a hard place, wanting to adhere to provincial recommendations in order to stay healthy and control the spread of the virus. 

But in the end, should the policing or judgement of those who chose to travel against recommendations be left on the shoulders of individuals rather than the municipal, provincial or federal governments? And is it up to governments to police individual’s decisions? 

Without easy access to sufficient government support to be able to turn down out of town guests, those reliant on tourism are left in a grey area. 

Personally, there is a little judgement of their travel decisions mixed with appreciation of them spending their money in our community and helping to keep a tourism-dependent place going.

There’s also internal judgement—that while I’ve done everything I personally can, if I receive such a booking and don’t cancel it I could still be contributing to the problem.

In the end I think myself, and especially those with much more riding on this season than I have, are left feeling both grateful for and wary of the travelers. 

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