Good afternoon Tourism Tofino members,
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge how devastating the past nine days have been for our businesses, our staff, and the local tourism industry at large. This is not the start to the 2023 summer season that any of us wanted and it will have far-reaching impacts beyond when the highway is reopened.
The staff at Tourism Tofino have been working tirelessly fielding high volumes of visitor inquiries, touching base with businesses, engaging with media, and meeting with officials at all levels of government. I wanted to give you a brief update on what Tourism Tofino has been doing behind the scenes to help navigate our industry through this extremely challenging situation:
- Clarifying the message to visitors
The messaging coming from the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure regarding essential travel only on the detour route has been challenging for many of us. Tourism Tofino is in a difficult position of having to adhere to the Province’s official messaging while acknowledging the hardship this is placing on our members.
The latest advisory on the detour route was released yesterday (June 14) and states that “only essential travel is recommended” and “all drivers are asked to travel only for essential purposes.” (https://www.tranbc.ca/current-travel-advisories/). This is not an order at this time, but a recommendation. Provincial staff and contractors at checkpoints along the detour have not and will not be turning drivers away if travel is not essential, however we understand some drivers were turned around by RCMP yesterday due to an accident.
While the detour has been established primarily for the movement of essential goods to our communities, prepared drivers with experience navigating logging roads are making it through the detour without incident. However, it is important to note that there have been vehicle accidents on the detour, and that the wildfire risk on the route is extremely high and of concern to First Nations in the area.
We have confirmed from multiple sources that once Highway 4 is reopened to single-lane alternating traffic, there will be no messaging around essential travel – the highway will be open for everyone. There will obviously be major delays on that route once reopened but visitors will be able to use it. The detour route will also remain open.
I also want to remind everyone that regional air carriers continue to offer increased service in and out of Tofino for those interested in this option.
Tourism Tofino has participated in regular meetings with MLA Josie Osborne and other regional leaders from local governments, First Nations, Chambers of Commerce, and Tourism Associations. We will continue to share important updates on all our channels.
In the meantime, please see this quick guide on visitor messaging that we are using at Tourism Tofino that will assist your staff in communicating the situation with visitors.
- Advocating for business support
We have been hearing from many businesses in all sectors about the significant financial impact of this highway closure to date, and the implications for staff that are now on reduced hours or worse. The Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce will be releasing a short survey for businesses so that we can better quantify the financial impacts. I strongly encourage you to engage with this survey when it is released so we can use this in our advocacy efforts.
In partnership with other regional Chambers and Tourism Associations, we have already begun advocating to the government for timely and significant support for businesses affected by the highway closure. I spoke with Minister Popham (BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport) yesterday to convey the gravity of the situation. She indicated that both her and Minister Osborne have been communicating with the BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development, and Innovation about the topic of business relief which will likely also involve the federal government.
We have also engaged the Tourism Industry Association of BC and the BC Chamber of Commerce for help in our advocacy efforts to government.
At the District of Tofino level, Jen Dart and myself have been meeting regularly with CAO Nyla Attiana on the situation. Many of you have asked about property tax deferrals as a form of business assistance. While property taxes can’t legally be deferred, the penalty dates can be adjusted by bylaw. Our understanding is that, given the time it takes to carefully assess risk regarding the adjustment of tax penalty dates, and the impending tax due date, time does not allow for the District of Tofino to adjust the tax penalty date.
If you have any specific examples around how the highway closure is impacting your business and staff – please continue to relay that to Jen Dart at the Tofino Long Beach Chamber of Commerce (email@example.com).
We will obviously keep you informed of any news regarding business supports, but it is important to note that nothing has been guaranteed by government at this time. We continue to stress the urgency and need around this.
- Planning a reopening marketing campaign
We are already deep in the planning stages of a coordinated marketing campaign to let visitors know that the highway is open, and that Tofino is welcoming visitors as soon as Highway 4 is reopened. We have been in talks with Destination BC, BC’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, 4VI (Tourism Vancouver Island), Tourism Ucluelet and others about a targeted and sustained marketing push to our key markets to ensure that we save the rest of the summer season for our businesses.
Tourism Tofino has not actively marketed the summer months for a number of years, but we recognize that this year is now very different and will need a significant push to get the word out that visitors are welcomed in an attempt to recapture some of the revenue that has been lost.
Further details on this campaign will be forthcoming so that our businesses can align their own marketing efforts around the reopening of Highway 4.
I know this situation is extremely difficult and very reminiscent for many of us of the early days of the pandemic. We are here to support our members and community as best we can at this unfortunate time. While I acknowledge that “support local” messaging is not going to make up for the dramatic loss of visitation, we continue to encourage people to support local businesses where they can and to look out for each other. An evolving list of local offers can be found at https://tourismtofino.com/news/2023/06/09/discounted-tofino-accommodations-tours-activities-during-the-cameron-bluffs-wildfire/
You are welcome to get in touch with me at anytime for additional support or to share information.