Tofino prepares to welcome back tourists as pandemic restrictions ease

Jun 8 2020, 5:47 pm

The coastal community of Tofino on Vancouver Island is getting ready to welcome back tourists this summer as BC eyes moving into Phase 3 of its pandemic reopening plan.

The perennially popular destination could get even more attention this summer as British Columbians brainstorm domestic travel plans because international trips are off.

Non-essential travel within BC is still discouraged for now, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the province could lift that restriction soon if all goes well. In the meantime, Tofino’s tourism workers are busy getting ready while waiting for Henry’s blessing.

“I have a lot of confidence in the businesses and the practices they’ve put in place. They’re very responsible,” Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne told Daily Hive in a phone interview.

But at the same time, she cautioned that tourists need to understand their visit won’t be like pre-coronavirus times.

“It isn’t going to be a typical summer in Tofino. It isn’t going to feel like the visit you’ve had in the past,” she said. “It could be as little as waiting in line to get a taco, or being patient with an accommodation provider if your visit needs to be changed.”

What a post-coronavirus hotel stay looks like

At Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn, managing director Charles McDiarmid and staff are getting ready for a June 15 opening. Right now, the property is only accepting bookings from residents of BC.

 

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When guests drive up to check in, they’ll be greeted in their cars at the property gate. Cars will be allowed to unload one at a time. Staff wearing gloves and masks will offer assistance carrying luggage but won’t touch personal items unless instructed to.

The hotel rooms won’t get their usual daily cleaning and nightly turndown service to minimize contact between staff and guests. When guests check out, staff will wait until the next morning to clean the room. All suites will be empty for at least 24 hours before the next guest checks in.

Hotels are deemed an essential service, so they’re allowed to be open throughout the pandemic. Some chose to open earlier than the Wickaninnish, opening reservations as of June 1.

“Technically we could open,” McDiarmid said. “But we’re not an essential travel destination. It is leisure travel.”

How a small community weighs reopening

Mayor Osborne acknowledged some visitors have already come back to Tofino, and she expects their numbers will gradually increase as the weather warms.

Tourism is a massive economic driver in Tofino. Osborne estimates the industry brings in about a quarter of a billion dollars every year. It provides about 2,500 jobs in the town with a population just under 2,000 by the most recent census count.

“It’s huge,” Osborne said, adding she thinks coronavirus restrictions have been more keenly felt in the community compared to urban centres with more diversified economies. “Our tap got turned off a little harder than it did in other towns.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Tofino pointedly asked visitors to stay away because of concerns over how its limited healthcare resources could manage a potential outbreak.

There’s one small 10-bed hospital in Tofino that also serves more remote communities on western Vancouver Island. It only has one ventilator.

“We were very worried about that,” Osborne said.

But now, increased knowledge about the virus and BC’s strategy for dealing with it has Osborne feeling more confident. For example, Tofino is part of a health resource sharing scheme on Vancouver Island, meaning sick people can be transferred to a larger hospital on the other side of the island.

While resuming tourism carries its own risks, continued isolation and a stagnant economy can also negatively impact peoples’ health, Osborne said.

“I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. It’s a balance.”

 

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When asked for clarity about when BC can move into Phase 3, which would allow leisure travel again, Dr. Henry said she’s waiting to complete two 14-day coronavirus incubation periods during Phase 2. That makes June 16 the earliest possible day leisure travel could be endorsed.

When planning travel within BC, Henry asked people to look ahead to see what’s open, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible. If travellers become ill on their journey, they will need to self-isolate the same as at home.

“When we hit the open road, we aren’t leaving COVID-19 behind,” Henry said.

What’s open and what’s closed in Tofino?

Just like restaurants in BC’s big cities, eateries in Tofino have already begun welcoming back customers. Popular restaurant Wolf in the Fog reopened on June 4 and is trying to entice guests by running a contest with Pacific Sands Resort.

 

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Visitors can still grab quick grub at Tofino favourites like Rhino Coffee and Tacofino.

Several of Tofino’s surf schools are already operating with enhanced cleaning procedures.

 

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Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino has also started gradually reopening, and visitors can access some spots via the Long Beach Unit. Unlike BC provincial parks, sightseers must pay to enter this park.

 

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But other Tofino businesses remained closed for now. Ocean Outfitters, which tours Hot Springs Cove, isn’t accepting bookings until September because the marine park it frequents is closed. There are concerns COVID-19 could spread to the Hesquiaht First Nation village in the cove.

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