Chaos or chance: perceived impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vancouver Island tourism

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Crew, Elaine
This study explores the relationship between sustainability and tourism during COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic (Cucinotta & Vanelli, 2020). As of April 30th, 2023, there were 775 million confirmed cases worldwide, with seven million confirmed deaths (World Health Organization, 2024). There were 203,000 cases in Canada, with 239 of the confirmed cases being on Vancouver Island, British Columbia when data was collected for this research (BC Center for Disease Control, 2020; World Health Organization, 2024). The COVID-19 virus brought the world and tourism to a halt, thus dramatically changing Vancouver Island which is a hub for tourism. The coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic affected much of the globe as it began to spread in 2019. This had significant impacts on tourism, one of the most important industries on Vancouver Island and, more generally, British Columbia, making it important to understand the perceived impacts from the tourism operators’ perspective. This research is unique as it asked tourism operators their perspectives during the pandemic rather than after. While tourism and major world events have collided before, there has not been an event to this scale related to a global pandemic and tourism. This study helps to fill the knowledge gap with the experiences of tourism operators. The aim of the study was to inquire what economic, environmental, and socio-cultural impacts were being seen by the tourism operators between waves of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Using an hour-long interview guide, participants were able to share their perspectives on the impacts they saw on Vancouver Island’s tourism industry. The interviews were analyzed using a Qualitative Descriptive (QD) approach adapted from the nursing field to explore the phenomenon. The results showed examples of resilience with the collaboration amongst operators was paramount to surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic. The results showed that many funding sources from governmental and community organizations benefited tourism operators and enabled them to remain open. It showed a shift in the demographics of tourists and a shift in the roles of tourism operators during this challenging time. The operators shared that the decrease in tourists saw wildlife flourish and gave them time to reflect on their impacts on the environment. The operators began to plan with thoughts of making their operations more sustainability for the environment, their communities, and their operational budgets.
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