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Feb 16, 2024

TIABC Voice of Tourism Newsletter – February 16, 2024

TIABC

During a conversation with a professional colleague from Northern BC a couple of weeks ago, the topic of weather came up. I mentioned taking advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures to go for a long bike ride. He expressed dismay over grass growing in his yard when it should have been buried waist deep in snow.

As you know, spring-like temperatures, little rain, and a low snowpack in many parts of BC are likely to lead to water shortages and the resurfacing of an estimated 100 ground fires that nature has yet to extinguish.

Regrettably for TIABC, our sector, DMO and business members, the Tourism Emergency Management Committee (TEMC), the province and dozens of communities, the likelihood of more wildfires continues to be one of the primary issues on the radar for the foreseeable future. In fact, I’ve had numerous meetings in recent weeks on wildfires alone.

In late January, professional colleagues Dale Wheeldon (BC Economic Development Association), Ellen Walker-Matthews (TOTA) and I met with the Premier’s Expert Task Force on Emergencies to offer our recommendations on how the province can leverage the expertise and resources of the tourism sector when wildfires and other crises occur.

Earlier this week, I met with an adventure tourism business owner whose operation was nearly wiped out entirely by a wildfire that could have been contained if the right decisions were made at the right time. He sought my advice on a six-page submission to government on ways to prevent calamities like the one his business experienced.

As I alluded to in my message last Friday, I met with a 50-year resident of the Shuswap who was busy pounding the pavement in Victoria this week, and along with the aforementioned tourism operator, offered a number of suggestions for government action. To name but a few:

A. Crews should not be allowed to leave a threatened area until a wildfire has been contained.

B. More air surveillance must be deployed to monitor fire activity.

C. Authorities need to deploy a more effective warning system, as well as develop better communication protocols for residents and businesses directly impacted by a looming wildfire.

D. Senior governments should consider some form of financial support to help with supplemental insurance coverage for businesses currently unable to obtain protection due to their location (i.e. within an at-risk fire zone).

E. Senior governments should consider some form of financial support for underinsured businesses that were damaged or destroyed by wildfires but were denied full coverage or received no firefighting services.

F. The province should allow local contractors and foresters (i.e. experts with intimate knowledge of an area and terrain) to bolster firefighting efforts.

G. The province should allow rural residents to protect their properties (without risk of fines) if no other firefighting options exist.

I’m not a firefighting expert but at first blush there appears to be some merit to these suggestions.

A few days ago, I met with an assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University, who also doubles as the Canada Research Chair in Fire Ecology, to discuss TIABC’s involvement in a new symposium entitled, Coexisting with Wildfires in BC: Impacts and Solutions, which will bring together a diverse array of voices, including Indigenous leaders, scientific experts and impacted groups, to review the 2023 wildfires, and more importantly, explore potential solutions. Stay tuned for further information on the symposium in the coming weeks.

This past Wednesday, the province announced more support in the form of firefighting equipment, safety gear, medical and hygiene equipment, as well as two mass water-delivery systems (e.g. helicopter, fixed wing aircraft) that will be used for fire suppression and flood operations. It’s a positive step as the Premier’s Task Force continues its critical work. On a related note, the TEMC continues its work to advance recommendations to government and prepare our sector for what lies ahead. Some of our plans will be shared in a dedicated workshop (with Dale Wheeldon as one of the speakers) at the upcoming BC Tourism Industry Conference in Victoria.

While spring on the South Coast usually arrives ahead of the rest of the province, it’s far too early for me to be riding my bike regularly (as I’ve been doing), or to be watching my neighbours cut their lawns and pluck weeds. While I generally prefer warm, dry weather, I’m honestly hoping for buckets of rain and tons of snow in the weeks ahead to help mitigate the impacts of drought and wildfires on tourism businesses and communities, not only where I live but in parts of the BC that desperately need it.

Walt Judas,

CEO, TIABC

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