Sunny days ahead? Support ramps up for business as Restart Step 2 kicks in

Market Square at Whistle Buoy Brewing
Diners enjoy the patio at Whistle Buoy Brewing Co in Market Square, Victoria BC. Photo via Destination BC, credit Hubert Kang.

As the Province implements Step 2 of its Restart plan (as of June 15), people and businesses are taking hesitant steps into what will soon become a (mostly) post-pandemic world. Now that over 75% of adults have been vaccinated with their first dose, and increasing numbers with their second, we’re beginning to feel safer engaging in ‘normal’ activities.

For those sectors heavily impacted by the pandemic, this phase is welcome news, as they continue to stagger under the weight of lost revenue and traffic. We’ve yet to see the full impact of the pandemic – industry experts predict more businesses will continue to close, even after all restrictions are lifted, because they simply cannot go on operating at a deficit. Despite many government support initiatives, some have still fallen through the cracks.

In Step 2, businesses can now host up to 50 people for indoor seated organized gatherings (movie theatres, live theatre, banquet halls), and maximum of 50 spectators for outdoor sports. Liquor service at restaurants, bars and pubs are extended until midnight and high-intensity fitness can take place indoors with safety plans in place.

Julie Lawlor, Executive Director of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce, says “we appreciate the thoughtful, scientific approach of the BC restart plan with clear indicators of what needs to happen for us to be able to move to each stage. For the business community, a clear plan makes all the difference and moving forward in a staged way is much better for business continuity.

“We know from our members that a lot of planning has been put into COVID safety plans and that so many business owners are delighted to be able to welcome new or more guests and customers. We have all learned to use new phrases like ‘respiratory virus season’ which were previously largely unknown in the general population. Until global vaccination levels improve, we will be watching how variants and vaccinations develop as we move into the autumn.”

Explore BC Now campaign launches

Intra-provincial travel can also now resume, with residents no longer restricted to their health regions (though inter-provincial travel is still not encouraged). As a result, Destination BC has launched Open to More, a domestic summer marketing campaign encouraging B.C. residents to explore new regions within their province through signature B.C. experiences.

Tourism organization leaders came together on a joint statement on the resumption of non-essential travel within B.C.: “the hospitality and tourism sector have sacrificed so much in the fight against COVID-19. Now we’re encouraging British Columbians to say thank you by exploring B.C. this summer. Destination BC’s Know Before You Go page on their consumer trip-planning website includes information on How To Travel Safely and Responsibly in BC including travel updates, how B.C. is responding, and more.

“Every dollar British Columbians spend at a local hotel, restaurant, attraction, experience or shop helps people and families, the tourism sector, our communities and our province create jobs, restart and recover. Help share the message: #exploreBCnow.”

Permanent patio season?

As tourism rebounds, more than 2,000 temporary patios authorized to serve liquor during the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply to become permanent under amended provincial liquor regulations.

Temporary expanded service areas (TESAs) have allowed thousands of restaurants and pubs to serve more patrons while complying with health orders, particularly those related to physical distancing and indoor dining.

To ensure existing and prospective TESAs can operate without interruption as they transition toward becoming a permanent part of B.C.’s hospitality landscape, the Province is extending the authorization of existing TESAs for an additional seven months, through to June 1, 2022, and continuing to accept applications for new TESAs up to October 31, 2021.

“We have seen the hospitality industry pivot and open patios as a way to continue to welcome their customers and operate safely during the pandemic,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation. “As we move forward with BC’s Restart, we remain committed to working with businesses to find innovative ways to help them thrive and grow.”

“TESAs have been a make-or-break opportunity for so many operations struggling through these uncommon and difficult times,” said Ian Tostenson, president and CEO, BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “This timely announcement, and the certainty it will afford our members in the months and years ahead, are welcome news.”

City of Victoria receives Social Procurement grant

The same week Step 2 began, the Province announced other measures of support, including $500,000 to expand the British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative through a one-time grant to the City of Victoria. The program supports a collaborative and community-focused approach to procuring equipment, supplies and services for local governments in both small, rural communities and large, urban centres – one that is unique to each community’s needs.

“Social procurement is a new approach to economic development,” said Lisa Helps, mayor of the City of Victoria and co-chair of the British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative steering committee. “Public-sector spending represents a very large portion of Vancouver Island’s economy, and how we spend those funds matters. Social procurement enables public-sector entities to procure goods and services in line with the values of their communities and to the benefit of their local economies.”

The City of Victoria also released an update showing optimism for recovery. In the update, they note an increase in business licenses issued this April over the same period in 2021, while their pedestrian counters, parking data, and bike counters show an increase in people downtown this Spring.

Preparing for Step 3

According to a media release from the Province, since the launch of the restart plan on May 25, government has been working with sector associations and WorkSafeBC to help prepare for the transition into Step 3 when public health orders will be lifted and new guidelines will come into effect. Businesses can expect to see updated guidance available through WorkSafeBC’s website prior to July 1.

The earliest target start date for Step 3 is July 1, and September 7 for Step 4.

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