As Haida Gwaii reopens to visitors, tourism operators continue to face challenges.
Starting tomorrow, the Council of the Haida Nation is officially reopening Haida Gwaii to visitors.
It’s good news for the islands’ tourism industry, which has essentially been on life support throughout the pandemic.
James Cowpar is the co-owner of Haida Style Expeditions, which offers cultural tours of the region. He says it’s been “a rough go” since the pandemic began.
“It was like a game of musical chairs,” he said. “One day, you're in the chair, ready to go – the next day, the legs are kicked out from under you.”
Cowpar says he’s been swamped with requests from potential tourists since the reopening announcement, but that doesn’t mean everything’s back to normal.
Earlier this month, BC Ferries announced the Northern Expedition ferry would taken out of service until August due to a mechanical failure. With the Northern Adventure ferry now having to service ferry trips from Prince Rupert to both Skidegate and Port Hardy, this means there are currently only three ferry trips to Haida Gwaii running per week.
“It's going to reduce traffic therefore at the end of the day,” said Cowpar. “It's going to reduce much-needed dollars and investment coming into our communities. This is going to be, needless to say, another year of post-pandemic blues.”
Cowpar isn’t the only one with concerns. Chad Whiteside runs the eco-tourism operation Sandspit Adventures. His business got a loan from the province, but he wasn’t able to qualify for the federal government’s Regional Relief and Recovery Fund due to a technicality.
“[It’s] going to take five to six years just to recover from loans, out of pocket cash from the business – cash flow was absolutely destroyed last year – the cost of hydro on this island, the cost of taxes, and business loans already existing. It's a challenging time.”
Whiteside adds there’s also the concern that COVID-19 cases could rise and the islands could close again.
“It's always in the back of your mind – ‘when's the next news conference coming out that, by the way, we're closing and you're going to have to lock down again?’"
Over in Queen Charlotte, Bryce Klee is feeling optimistic. Klee runs Green Coast Kayaking, which offers eight day tours through Gwaii Hanaas National Park. He says their season is almost all booked up, and he doesn’t mind if there’s a slow start to reopening.
“If we have a little bit of a light summer, that’s okay as well. I think there’s still going to be lots of people on Haida Gwaii. You can feel the energy – it’s like it’s exploding here.”
The Council of the Haida nation is asking visitors to sign a visitor's pledge, watch a visitor’s orientation video, and donate to the Haida Gwaii Stewardship Fund.
It’s also requesting that visitors be fully vaccinated before arriving on Haida Gwaii.