British Columbians are conducting online searches for travel within B.C. almost as much as they were doing in 2019.
A report from Destination Canada updated in late January says that, combined with the fact that accommodation searches and bookings are at ‘moderate levels’ but lower than 2019 levels, means B.C. has moved into a phase of intra-provincial travel.
B.C. is the largest province in the country to have that rating in Destination Canada’s report on the impact of COVID-19 on domestic travel.
“While non-essential travel is currently not permitted in the province of British Columbia, Destination Canada assesses that British Columbia has progressed from the Hyper Local phase into the Intra-Provincial phase,” reads the report updated Jan. 26.
However, the report clarifies the increase in search and bookings shows an increased interest in travel, not necessarily that B.C. residents are non-compliant with current health restrictions.
Apart from B.C., only P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have been ranked open for intra-provincial travel.
Those four regions put together have a population of just under 760,000. B.C. has 5 million.
Managing director of the Wickanninish Inn in Tofino, Charles McDiarmid, said the figures are concerning.
“It makes me feel a little bit nervous to know at least the searches are up that much,” he said.
The Wickanninish Inn has been closed to guests since Nov. 7, when public health orders banning all social gatherings were first brought into effect.
“It’s very challenging for us to remain closed, but at the same time, if our public health officer is recommending against non-essential travel, I think they probably know what they’re doing,” McDiarmid said.
Lots of resorts and rental accommodations in Tofino, however, are open to visitors.
McDiarmid said he understands times are tough for those operators, but he’s still asking non-Tofitians to follow public health recommendations and come back another time.
“Frustrating as it is. We all want to travel, we all want to interact, we want to take off the masks, but it’s just not quite the right time yet. We’re not quite there,” he said.
“The wide open beaches await a safe time to return.”
But McDiarmid said he doesn’t think the situation warrants what he calls “draconian” travel restrictions.
“If you do that, you have to be prepared to enforce it. If you’re not going to enforce it, it’s not worth doing and I would say that would be a very difficult thing to do,” he said.
“I’m not saying it would never be warranted, but it’s not warranted at this point.”
The Destination Canada report describes the intra-provincial travel phase as one in which residents are booking trips within their province or territory.
“Travel by vehicle within a province/territory is possible and not discouraged,” it reads.
An advisory against non-essential travel in B.C. was issued in mid-November but has no legal recourse.
The province has recommended that British Columbians stay close to home and avoid taking trips for pleasure at this time.
It also includes information on each province’s weekly COVID-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people.
As of the report’s updated publication on Jan. 26, B.C. fell around the middle of the pack, with a weekly rate of 78 cases per 100,000 people.
Each other province or territory that’s ranked open for intra-provincial travel, however, had a rate of below 4 cases, and P.E.I. was the only one to have a weekly incidence rate above 1 per 100 thousand people.
— With files from Claire Fenton