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Travel indicators mixed heading into Victoria Day long weekend

Victoria Day long weekend won’t see any extra sailings added to BC Ferries routes
Ferry travellers
Foot passengers on a ferry during the summer of 2020.

While some BC Ferries and campsite reservations are sold out, other indicators show fewer tourists will be heading to the Sunshine Coast this weekend, despite fears keeping non-essential travel open for Lower Mainland residents would have the opposite effect.

The typically high-traffic Victoria Day long weekend won’t see any extra sailings added to BC Ferries routes and in a release the company reminded customers “that the Province’s travel restrictions Order remains in effect and travel is limited to essential reasons only.”

Under the order, in effect since April 23 and until the end of the long weekend, residents must stay within three regional zones grouped according to health region – Interior and Northern Health, Vancouver Island Health, and Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health.

BC Ferries has been denying passage to customers travelling for non-essential purposes on affected routes, according to the release issued May 17, but those routes don’t include Horseshoe Bay to Langdale.

Travel to the Sunshine Coast has continued to increase marginally on weekends since the travel restrictions were put into effect, but still remains far lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Last weekend, vehicle traffic was up 6.8 per cent and passenger traffic up 7.5 per cent on Route 3 compared to the week before. Compared to a similar weekend in 2019, it’s down 38 per cent for vehicles and 61 per cent for foot passengers.

Vehicle traffic plummeted by 38 per cent the weekend after the order went into effect and then rose by 20 per cent the following week.

Reservations for regular vehicles heading to Langdale for the Friday leading into the Victoria Day long weekend were sold out by May 18, while six of eight return sailings to Vancouver on May 24 were sold out.

As for accommodations, there also appear to be fewer short-term rental listings than a usual pre-pandemic long weekend.

About 525 listings appeared on Airbnb, according to tallies by Coast Reporter, 136 of which were available for guests to rent from May 21 to 24. On Vrbo, 30 of 272 short-term rentals were available to rent.

Some sites cross-list on rental platforms, and listings don’t indicate whether they’re booked with guests or operators have made them unavailable.

Paul Kamon, executive director with Sunshine Coast Tourism, says a normal year sees listings on the Sunshine Coast fluctuate between 600 to 800.

Another indicator of an accommodations dip is revenue collected from online accommodation platform municipal and regional district tax (MRDT), also known as a hotel tax. Over the last quarter, $600 in remittance was generated through the tax, “which is next to nothing,” said Kamon.

“There has been dramatically reduced funds coming from short-term rentals, which is what we suspected because we’re under lockdown at this point in time,” he said.

Additionally, Kamon attributed a portion of demand to essential workers visiting the Sunshine Coast temporarily for projects.

Kamon called the apparent reduced supply a “good sign” that people are respecting travel orders and guidelines, and heading into Victoria Day long weekend isn’t aware of any surge in demand.

Sunshine Coast provincial parks will likely be busy this weekend, however. Porpoise Bay Provincial Park outside Sechelt is fully booked with only first come, first serve sites available, according to the Ministry of Environment.

Both Plumper Cove and Roberts Creek provincial parks are entirely first come first serve, but according to a ministry statement, based on reservation trends campsites “will most likely be fully booked in the days leading up to and including May long weekend.”

There is a combined total of 185 campsites at those parks’ campgrounds.

Cabins at Tetrahedron Provincial Park remain unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions

Sunshine Coast political leaders, including mayors of Sechelt and Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast Regional District chair, sought firmer travel restrictions when the initial travel ban was declared by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth in April.

On May 17, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is “not yet ready to make any changes to our current provincial health orders this week.”

For the long weekend, she said, “it is important for all of us to stay the course, that means staying local, staying small and remembering to use all of our protective measures, even as more and more of us are immunized.”

Last May long weekend Coast Reporter reported BC Ferries, local governments and Canadian Coast Guard issued statements advising people against non-essential travel, while some locals threatened to blockade the ferry terminal, though that never transpired.

Following the weekend Health Minister Adrian Dix shared ferry statistics showing travel to the Sunshine Coast doubled compared to the Easter long weekend, but at 7,649 passengers, traffic remained well below the 2019 long weekend, which saw 23,586 passengers travel to the Coast.

– With files from Keili Bartlett and Jane Seyd