The State of the Industry with Tourism Abbotsford

The effects of Covid-19 on the tourism industry have been hard felt. Small business owners are concerned about sustaining their businesses through this tough time and the impacts it will have on their futures. Lifty Life shares these concerns and wanted to find some answers and advice on the future of our industry. In a series of interviews Lifty Life will be asking industry experts about the impact of Covid19 on the tourism industry and providing advice to business owners on how to adapt.

To start off please introduce yourself and Tourism Abbotsford

"My name is Craig Nichols, I am the Executive Director for the Tourism Abbotsford Society. We are a community destination marketing organization (DMO), and operators of the Fraser Valley Trade & Exhibition Centre (Tradex), a busy multi purpose facility that hosts over 70 events a year. Our purpose is to generate increased visitation, extended stays and additional revenue opportunities for businesses in our community. "

tourism abbotsford

What is your outlook on the future of the tourism industry?

"Well, the immediate outlook for our industry is not a good one. With the need to preserve the health and safety of people during this pandemic, many of our partners have had to close or scale back their services substantially. As we are seeing, necessary travel restrictions are having a deep impact on tourism industry businesses as they are unable to welcome the number of guests they normally would."

The immediate outlook for our industry is not a good one

1. What opportunities do you foresee?

"The good news is there are opportunities ahead of us here in the Fraser Valley and in Abbotsford as we approach and move through the second half of the year. When we do see an easing of movement restrictions in BC, we anticipate there will be a pent-up demand from people looking to get out of their houses/apartments and reconnect with friends and family. There will also be a demand to get outside and do things, with a focus on activities and experiences that are safe and can accommodate social distancing. These are the type of experiences that Abbotsford is really good at through our agritourism businesses, and our great trails and parks. So, we see definite opportunities to welcome people from outside the community, in particular Metro Vancouver and the Interior."

tourism abbotsford social distancing

2. What threats do you foresee?

"The most obvious and significant threat is that we reopen things to soon, or without the proper health and safety measures in place. The last thing any of us want to see is that we get part way down a path to recovery only to see an outbreak or outbreaks happen in the Valley or here in Abbotsford.

We are all going to need to work together to ensure we are operating our businesses safely and communicating consistent and accurate information. We must be careful we do not unknowingly promote an activity or business that is not safe."

3. Are you optimistic about the future of the tourism industry?

"I am tremendously optimistic. As humans, we are hard wired for emotions, and tourism and travel are great enablers of emotions. Regardless of why someone travels, the experiences we have along the way are what connect us and create long-lasting memories. This desire to get out and explore, to connect and experience new things won’t go away. In fact, it may be more pronounced than ever coming out of this crisis. For tourism marketers and operators, there may be different influences like safety and security that we need to plan for and prioritize, however."

downtown abbotsford tourism

How is Tourism Abbotsford currently supporting local businesses?

"Our focus the past few weeks has been very inward looking – it has been on supporting the immediate needs of our community and our tourism partners. This has required us to do a lot of reading, and to be diligent in communicating with industry colleagues, our board of directors, and with local businesses and industry stakeholders. Many of our partners are suffering, simply doing what they have to in order to ensure they can keep their doors open or be ready to reopen doors when the time is right. We have all been inundated with news and with government support programs the past few weeks, so we’ve focused on curating what may be important or of interest and sharing it with partners.

We’ve also been working closely with other Abbotsford organizations and businesses through the Abbotsford Business Community Coalition. This coalition is focused on providing immediate support to businesses to try and help them remain viable and operational, and ensuring our community is ready to step forward together along the path to recovery."

What advice do you have to local businesses on adapting to the market?

"Outside of the most immediate concern of liquidity, there are two critical areas to focus on; making use of the available resources various levels of governments and providers have put in place, and understanding what health & safety protocols will be required to operate safely in the coming months.

On the topic of safety protocols, this will be an area of growing concern for businesses once we start to see restrictions lifted…what do I need to do to be able to open and operate safely? While we see some protocols in action around us at bigger retail stores, there are still many layers of protocols that need to be developed and adopted. It will be critical for businesses to know these protocols and implement them to the nth degree."

Abbotsford Tulips

What unique ways have businesses already adapted?

"It has been inspirational to see the creativity and ingenuity on display in Abbotsford. Whether it’s turning a restaurant in to a mini online grocery store, implementing a wine/beer delivery service, creating opportunities for customers to support front-line workers, or developing online ordering and pick up services within a matter of days, Abbotsford is being well served by passionate, creative and hardworking community-minded business owners.

We’ve even seen a charity put on virtual fundraising dinner, local musicians host virtual concerts, and a local arts organization promote a self-guided mural tour.

What has surprised you most about this crisis?

"The speed at which this crisis moved and the depth to which it has impacted all of us. I was at a travel and tourism conference in Victoria in January, just about 100 days ago. The theme of the conference was the sustainability of tourism & travel, and how to deal with the issues we were seeing being created by ‘over tourism’ and heavy visitor demand on regions and resources. Fast forward to mid-March and suddenly there was no tourism."

We literally went from talking about record growth of tourism to seeing our industry ‘closed’ in two months. It is breathtaking, actually.

What can BC residents do to support the BC tourism industry?

"Looking ahead, we need to avoid thinking BC tourism businesses have ‘made it’ once restrictions begin to be lifted.

It sounds a bit cliché, but what we can do, what we have to do, is support local. The viability of many of our restaurants, shops, attractions, and hotels will be depending on it.

While we expect to see some visitors from other parts of Canada at some point this year, there will be limited opportunities to welcome visitors from south of the border, and even fewer opportunities to welcome visitors from overseas. So, we will be the ones creating the revenue and demand for BC businesses throughout 2020. We know we won’t be able to fill the void created by lack of international visitors this year, but we must do what we can to try and create enough economic activity that would allow tourism businesses to keep their doors open in to 2021.

So, once local businesses are reopened, once travel restrictions begin to be lifted, and once you feel comfortable leaving your home and ‘exploring’, we encourage BC residents to support local business."

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