On June 24, 2020, British Columbia transitioned to Phase 3 of BC’s Restart Plan. This included “the smart, safe and respectful return of travel and tourism within the province”. As a result, local tourism authorities worked with the Ministry and Provincial Public Health to introduce safety protocols and guidelines to help tourists plan and visit certain areas that were ready to welcome visitors again.
In 2018, tourism contributed $20.5 Billion Dollars in revenue just in British Columbia and it was expected that 2020 would be another record setting year until the pandemic hit. While travel restrictions are in place for foreign visitors, visitors from elsewhere in Canada were able to visit British Columbia to support the ailing industry, which is largely made up of small independent businesses in certain communities.
This summer, we were fortunate to be able to travel within the province and visit familiar places and new ones. In this post, we share observations and information about what travel was like in the province (no opinions…just observations).
Destinations welcoming visitors:
Many popular tourist destinations were open and welcoming visitors but some more remote locations that depend on international tourists remained closed for the season (fishing lodges, high-end eco resorts). In addition, some Indigenous travel experiences/destinations remained closed but a list of what’s open for 2020 can be found on the Indigenous Tourism BC website.
We recommend checking the tourism webpage for the destination you are planning to visit for more information; here are a few popular ones:
- Tourism Vancouver: https://www.tourismvancouver.com/
- Tourism Victoria: https://www.tourismvictoria.com/
- Tourism Kelowna: https://www.tourismkelowna.com/
- Tourism Ucluelet: https://www.discoverucluelet.com/
- Tourism Tofino: https://tourismtofino.com/
- Tourism Vancouver Island: https://www.tourismvi.ca/
- Visit Penticton: https://www.visitpenticton.com/
- Hello BC: https://www.hellobc.com/
Many popular outdoor recreation activities re-opened, like provincial parks, hiking trails, and nature tours but things were very different this year.
Camping in provincial parks was only open to residents of British Columbia and everything more or less sold out in a matter of days. Some popular hiking trails did not re-open and some that did required a day pass available the day of to get access; for example, to access Garibaldi Lake, you had to go on the BC Parks Day-Use Pass Reservation System website the day of no earlier than 06:00 to obtain one of limited day passes (it sold out fast!). Nature activities like whale watching, kayaking, surfing, and foraging were available but with protocols that varied by operator.
For the winter, ski hills are expected to re-open but season pass holders will be prioritized and reservations will be required. For more information about skiing/snowboarding in Whistler this season, have a look at this website: https://www.whistler.com/winter-packages/.
Ski areas in the Vancouver area are also updating their anticipated opening dates and new protocols and some are almost sold out already:
- Grouse Mountain:https://www.grousemountain.com/
- Mount Seymour: https://mtseymour.ca/
- Cypress Mountain: https://cypressmountain.com/
Some Museums and most shopping centers re-opened across the province with protocols but it is always best to check what you are interested in visiting a few weeks in advance for updates. For example, the Vancouver Art Gallery re-opened on June 15 and required pre-booking for access as did Science World.
Sadly, the beloved Vancouver Aquarium re-opened for a short period of time but had to shut down due to lack of funding.
Some places also brought back things we missed, like live music but outdoors with lots of space.
Dining and Libations:
Indoor and outdoor dining re-opened in phase 2 with protocols like limited capacity, contact tracing, spacing between tables and plexiglass, limits on groups (no more than 6 people) and increased sanitization in phase 2. Thankfully, municipal governments also issued temporary permits for outdoor spaces for restaurants and bars to expand their spaces; having a meal and/or drink was different this year in a good way. Often, it is too expensive for small businesses to get permits for patios/outdoor seating and so there aren’t as many patios in the province.
Some places are only available for take-out and some require you to order online for curbside pickups. We have noticed that it varies based on regional public health guidelines too, for example, most cafes in Victoria only offered take-out when we visited during the summer.
Most winery tastings also required reserving in advance and many charged a non-refundable tasting fee due to the additional costs of operating this season. Overall, it was pleasant to enjoy a tasting without the usual crowds and feeling rushed and some wineries also found the season more enjoyable because they hosted people who were interested in their products.
Many hotels remained open for non-leisure travel purposes and many resorts/bnbs remained closed until phase 3. If anything, staying at a hotel/Airbnb was different this year and there was the most variability in regards to protocols.
Here is a summary:
Housekeeping: In most hotels and resorts, daily housekeeping is not available; you can call the front-desk to request items you need like towels, coffee/tea, toiletries, and replacement bedding. If housekeeping is available, you need to request it and schedule it in advance. Many hotels are also leaving rooms empty for anywhere between 4-24 hours in between stays before housekeeping goes in and cleans the room, which means early check-ins and late checkouts are not usually granted even if they are part of your elite benefits with a hotel chain (if you need early check-in/late check-out, sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay for an extra night). Some places also have checkout protocols like opening all the windows to air out the room and placing bedding and towels in laundry bags.
Dining: Most lounges in hotels are not open and some will offer an amenity at check-in instead and offer a complimentary breakfast delivered to your room everyday as part of elite benefits. Some hotels still offer breakfast in the dining room as part of elite benefits but got rid of the buffet and some hotels that offer complimentary breakfast to all guests have opted for a take-away breakfast. There have been few hotels we have been to that offer a full all day meal service in an indoor/outdoor dining room or by the pool. Most hotels do offer takeout meals though which is convenient.
Room amenities: Some high touch point items were removed from rooms: coffee makers, throw pillows, magazines, robes, and non-disposable dishes. Some hotels provided some items not in the room on demand. Some places left Lysol and other types of wipes in the room and others didn’t. If there is somethin you want/feel you need, it’s a good idea to bring it with you (like some of us have done before COVID).
Gyms: Many gyms have not reopened but many have with protocols. Some require booking a slot for 45-minutes for access and some just require you to respect occupancy limits and maintain distance from other guests.
Pools/Hot tubs/Saunas/Steam rooms: Many of these amenities are not available for guest use but it they are, they have similar protocols to gyms: some require booking a time slot for 45-60 minutes and others just require you to respect occupancy limits and maintain distance from other guests.
Booking Policies: Most places offer very flexible and generous cancellation policies as they want people to be able to cancel if they are unwell and many will even let you cancel in the middle of your stay at no penalty if you need to leave due to illness (always check before though to avoid issues).
Public transit, bike/car coops, car rental companies, taxis/ride sharing, ferries and flights were operating in the province.
Again, for more information about protocols, it is recommended to look at the websites for each service. Here are few specific to British Columbia:
- BC Ferries: https://www.bcferries.com/
- Harbour Air: https://www.harbourair.com/
- Seaair Seaplanes: https://www.seairseaplanes.com/
- Pacific Coastal Airlines: https://www.pacificcoastal.com/
- Central Mountain Air: https://www.flycma.com/
It is unsure what the future of travel looks like in British Columbia and as you can see, each establishment has had to adapt to the public health guidelines based on the nature of their business so patience and understanding are important for leisure and business travel. In some cases, it was difficult for some places to get staff if they depend on people coming from elsewhere in Canada or even abroad for seasonal work opportunities and so even if they wanted to open, they couldn’t or had to open partially. There have also been unintended consequences of travel during COVID-19 like smaller communities being overwhelmed with additional trash from all the disposable containers used by restaurants and people camping illegally due to less campground spaces than usual.
Overall, it was a nice summer to explore British Columbia due to all the natural beauty and space there is here while supporting local businesses. Hopefully we will get to visit favorites and new destinations next summer!
- Destination Guide: Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley in British Columbia
- Review: Elma Turkish Restaurant, Penticton, British Columbia
- Our Top 8 Hotel Picks for Socially Distanced Vacations
- Planning: 10 Tips for Visiting Vancouver
- The 10 Things We Don’t Miss About Travel
- COVID Cancellations: Refund Status Update
- COVID-19 Protocols for Tourists: 3 Extreme Examples
- Finding and Booking Flight Deals During COVID-19: Good or Bad Idea?
4 thoughts on “Travel in British Columbia during COVID-19”