While moderating a session at the TIAC Congress last week, Twenty31’s Greg Klassen made an astute observation, noting that a few years ago complicated societal issues such as addiction, homelessness and crime were not being discussed at tourism conferences. However, it’s a different story today given the ramifications of these problems on communities and in this case the visitor economy.
Recently, executives from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) presented a report to the BC Business Caucus (of which TIABC is a member) on crime and safety from a small business perspective.
The report noted that small business operators in western Canadian provinces have major concerns about vandalism, theft, waste, loitering, and public intoxication that are not only affecting the balance sheet but causing all sorts of problems for residents and visitors.
On a related note, you may recall that earlier this year some three dozen major companies across BC formed the Save Our Streets Coalition stating that more and more British Columbians are afraid to walk in their own streets and shopping districts, employees fear being assaulted at work, and local businesses are losing millions from brazen in-store theft that leads to higher prices for BC families.
Notwithstanding that police-reported crimes in BC dropped by nearly 15% between 2019 and 2022, I’ve personally heard from many concerned tourism operators over that same period about what some call lawlessness in their municipalities and neighbourhoods, which seriously erodes the customer and visitor experience.
At the same time, the CFIB study suggests that small business owners are showing remarkable resilience and adaptability, investing in the well-being of their communities, providing security measures and safety training for employees, and finding ways to keep their doors open.
CFIB highlights the importance of improving public spaces, addressing affordable housing, and allocating more sources to tackle mental health and addiction. It also calls on all levels of government to prioritize community safety by addressing underlying issues, collaborating with multiple stakeholders, improving reporting and transparency, overhauling the current approach to handling repeat offenders, and enhancing supports for small business.
With respect to assistance, last week the province launched its $10.5 million Securing Small Business Rebate Program to help small businesses recover costs from vandalism and for prevention measures. Administered by the BC Chamber of Commerce, operators are now able to apply for as much as $2,000 to offset the cost of repairs and up to $1,000 to bolster security. Applications are retroactive to January 1st to help businesses recoup costs incurred so far this year.
While I predict societal woes will be important topics of conversation at most BC tourism conferences for the foreseeable future, my guess is that panel moderators like Greg will have the opportunity to speak with operators at the forefront of workable solutions because our resilient tourism industry usually steps up to solve problems rather than sitting idly by as victims.