An almost-deserted Highway 1 heading north from Ashcroft on July 7, during what should have been high tourist season. Highway closures in the wake of the wildfires meant that area businesses were starved of visitors, taking a huge economic toll. Photo: Matti J. Lagerbom.

Surveys beginning to show economic impact of wildfires in the Interior

An estimated $23 million in lost business occurred in the first five weeks after the fires.

Amy Thacker, CEO of Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA), says that there are no good numbers to share in the wake of this summer’s wildfires in the B.C. Interior. “We’ve heard a range of revenue lost from down 15 per cent to down 85 per cent,” she says.

Roofed accommodation (hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts), campgrounds and RV parks, dining and food service businesses, attractions and tours, and festivals and events throughout the region were all affected. “A surprising one for me is retail. We’re hearing that cash registers weren’t ringing; in part because tourists weren’t coming, and in part because residents weren’t out shopping. These businesses may not be able to support clubs and sports teams. It’s a ripple effect.”

She cautions that all the numbers are not yet in, and that the first batch of surveys they have analyzed only cover the first five weeks of the fire. “We’re going back out this month with more surveys, so we can look at the whole impact [of the fires] and share the total economic impact on businesses and tourism operations.”

During those first five weeks after the fires started in early July, there was an estimated economic impact of $23 million lost in our area. “The average revenue loss per business in those first five weeks was $42,000; but the range is from one business losing $1,000 to several having losses of over $250,000 each. I think this will skew a little when the August numbers are in.”

Thacker says that between the fires, road closures, evacuations, and media fears, people weren’t travelling and spending money. “Misinformation picked up by mainstream media never helps small businesses or the tourism industry. They’re very susceptible. People make decisions based on that misinformation, even if it’s corrected.

“That mental fear based on mainstream media misinformation is still there, so we have to change the story to ‘You should still come here, or come back.’” Bookings for next year are down, and Thacker says businesses with social media need to reach out and share stories and pictures to help.

“And make sure CCCTA knows what your situation is,” she advises business owners. “We’re working with the government for immediate aid. If a business is struggling and needs help it needs to let us know. We can’t help if we’re not aware of the situation.”

Thacker says they are working with tourism media to come in and cover the area. “We’re working on strategies to tell different stories, and share positive stories.”

She says a significant number of local events, large and small, were cancelled. “There were major visitor attractions like the Quesnel Air Show cancelled; significant economic drivers. But the smaller events are the fabric of our communities, and they have a role to play.

“There were good turnouts to volunteer and welcome home celebrations, but attendance at other events was down. We’re starting to hear about events and groups that are struggling. Next summer needs to be a celebration as people heal and move forward.”

Thacker says that as far as she knows, the only business that has had to close in the region due to the wildfires is the Semlin Valley Golf Course in Cache Creek. “But I’m hearing anecdotal stories about how if some businesses can’t get support, they might have to close in the spring.

“Most people want to keep going, but they want disaster relief and need support. They’re looking for reduced costs and the replacement of lost revenue as a bridging solution.

“These businesses are an integral part of our communities. There’s a really good energy, and a passion to support each other and be successful as a community.”



editorial@accjournal.ca

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