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‘We’ve kind of fallen between the cracks’: More pleas for government help from tour-bus operators

Click to play video: 'Charter bus companies feel left out of critical funding' Charter bus companies feel left out of critical funding
"We've been completely left out” Tour bus operators across B.C. and in the Okanagan plead for critical funding relief to survive pandemic. – May 6, 2021

The motorcoach industry is a tourism-based sector that’s been hit very hard by the pandemic.

“It’s been extremely challenging,” said David Holmes, owner and operator of Perimeter Transportation Vancouver Bus Charters. “The motorcoach industry was probably the very first. Travel, in general, was the first impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic and will likely be amongst the last to recover.”

The industry has lost millions of dollars in revenue since the beginning of the pandemic-related restrictions.

“Our industry has constructively been shut down,” Holmes said. “Some of these companies have expressed that they may not survive beyond the fall.”

Read more: Devastated by pandemic, Kelowna tour bus company calling for urgent government help

Perimeter Transportation has a fleet of 20 charter buses, only two that are currently on the road,

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“Our industry has been operating at a 90-plus percent decline in revenue compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Holmes told Global News.

Making matters worse, motorcoach operators said they have received little-to-no funding relief from the provincial government.

“We’ve been completely left out of that, despite continued advocacy and many talks with government officials,” said Corinne Underwood, co-general manager and vice-president of sales and marketing for BlueStar Coachlines.

Click to play video: 'Motorcoach industry struggles' Motorcoach industry struggles
Motorcoach industry struggles – Jul 5, 2020

The Kelowna-based company has seen a 93 percent drop in revenue since the pandemic hit and has gone down from a staff of 60 to seven.

Underwood said tour-bus companies have been excluded from provincial pandemic support, including recent circuit breaker funding that the province provided to many tourism-based businesses such as hotels, fitness facilities, bars and restaurants.

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“The thing is that even with that, those businesses are still able to pivot. They’re able still to operate take-out, they’re still able to operate with a patio. We can’t we pivot,” she said.

Read more: B.C. expanding circuit breaker funding to hotels, motels and other short-term accommodations

With travel restrictions now prohibiting people from even crossing health regions within B.C., tour-bus owners and operators said they are pleading for help but that the pleas are falling on deaf ears.

“We’ve kind of fallen between the cracks,” Holmes said. “Motorcoaches, which one can argue have been impacted far greater than restaurants, are completely shut out of that particular benefit.”

In an e-mail to Global News, the Ministry of Tourism acknowledged that the motorcoach industry is vital to B.C.’s transportation and tourism ecosystems.

It added that the ministry is working to support the industry and has created a $100 million tourism-specific stream under the Small and Medium Size Business Recovery Grant Program that bus operators can access.

Click to play video: 'Motorcoach industry struggles' Motorcoach industry struggles
Motorcoach industry struggles – Jul 5, 2020

But Underwood said that funding is far from enough to keep companies afloat.

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“It’s sort of a maximum of $45,000, which is a drop in the bucket. That doesn’t even cover the cost of lease payments” she said.

“What we have been asking for with government is $39,000 per bus per company, so that equates to approximately 30 companies in British Columbia. Each company has an average 26 motor coaches, and that’s basically keeping the lights on and the lease payments going.”

Underwood said the lack of support is hard to understand given the motorcoach industry is the backbone of tourism and transports millions of tourists in B.C. every year.

“We provide not only employment for our specific sector, but also for related businesses such as hotels and restaurants and accommodation,” she said. “But we’re also bringing groups to those facilities or drawing business or providing revenue into those businesses.”

Underwood said the industry will continue lobbying the government, hoping for the kind of financial relief other tourism-based operators have received.

“We need to be included,” she said. “We want to be recognized as an equal in the tourism and hospitality sector as like attractions. as like restaurants and hotels.”

Click to play video: 'How the new travel restrictions will impact B.C.’s tourism industry' How the new travel restrictions will impact B.C.’s tourism industry
How the new travel restrictions will impact B.C.’s tourism industry – Apr 24, 2021

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