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‘This is unprecedented’: B.C.’s hotel industry takes big hit during coronavirus crisis

Thousands of hotel employees are expected to lose their jobs across B.C. as the COVID-19 crisis causes a drop in tourism. .
Thousands of hotel employees are expected to lose their jobs across B.C. as the COVID-19 crisis causes a drop in tourism. . Jules Knox / Global News

As tourism has tumbled amid the COVID-19 crisis, waves of hotels across B.C. have emptied of guests and then shuttered their doors.

“Every day has been a little bit more surreal, quite honestly,” Eldorado Resort general manager Brent Lavery said. “The morning that we wake up to today, tomorrow is a different morning, and a different set of circumstances that we’re having to deal with.”

Brent Lavery, the general manager of Kelowna’s recently-closed Hotel El Dorado, said he’s had to lay off the vast majority of his staff.

“My career has taken me through 9/11. It’s taken me through SARS and the economic meltdown of 2008/2009, but this is unprecedented,” he said.

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The British Columbia Hotel Association estimates that as more and more hotels start to close, there will be a 50 to 80 per cent reduction in staff, resulting in tens of thousands of jobs being eliminated because of COVID-19.

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“We have never seen anything like this before, and it is absolutely dire,” B.C. Hotel Association president and CEO Ingrid Jarrett said.

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Out of approximately 850 hotels in B.C., Jarrett estimated that 200 have already closed, and she expects that number to more than double within the week.

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The association also says that from June to September, most hotels earn somewhere between 50 to 80 per cent of their annual revenues.

“If we don’t save our summer, and if we don’t flatten the curve, and if this isn’t just a bad memory by June, I’m afraid that 30 per cent of businesses that are currently closed will not reopen,” she said.

Manteo Resort, a business affiliated with the El Dorado Resort, is keeping its doors open for now.

Lavery said it’s mostly people dealing with family matters, such as picking up an elderly parent from a care home, or individuals in need of somewhere to self-isolate in their self-contained villas.

“We have reached out to Kelowna General Hospital to let them know about our villas and the ability for first responders to self-isolate if need be,” he said.

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Lavery said he recently filled out a government survey looking for suggestions on how it could help the hotel industry.

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“I said, ‘take care of our staff, take care of our employees’,” he said.

Jarrett said B.C.’s Hotel Association is also calling for financial support and asking the government to take a close look at things like property taxes and GST.

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“We’re asking them for making sure all of our utilities cannot turn off the tap if somebody is unable to pay their bill,” she added.