Whistler tourism gears back up despite continued recommendation against non-essential travel

One of B.C.’s top tourism destinations is gearing up for business, despite provincial health officials continuing to urge people to avoid non-essential travel.

Over the past week hotels, golf courses, tours and other attractions in Whistler have begun to open their doors to customers.

But on Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she wasn’t comfortable advising British Columbians to hit the roads until she was certain new cases of COVID-19 were staying low.

“As things are opening up we may begin to see cases increase,” said Henry.

“If we can do that in a slow and measured way, then by the middle of June we should absolutely be able to move out a little bit more.”

That advice hasn’t stopped Lower Mainland residents like Marysa Ho from heading up the Sea to Sky Highway.

Ho and a friend spent Friday getting an adrenaline rush at the newly-reopenend Whistler Bungee.

“I wanted to have a different experience than being in the house and in quarantine,” she told Global News.

“I’m not worried really at all about the COVID stuff right now, but we take every precaution so I’m sure it will be fine.”

Whistler Bungee manager Matt van der Horst said his company can’t control who arrives at the ticket booth, but it can control the coronavirus safety measures it puts in place.

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“Whether it’s during COVID or before COVID we emphasize safety;l it’s a big part of our job up here,” he told Global News.

The company has installed extra plexiglass, distributed masks and is upping its cleaning schedule.

“It’s definitely a bunch of extra steps we’re taking to make sure all the customers and the staff are feeling as comfortable as possible,” he said.

At Whistler Photo Safari, general manager Sherry Hailliard says much of her traffic is now coming from the Lower Mainland, after travel restrictions wiped out the company’s international bookings.

Her company has limited bookings to one group per tour, is using PPE, and is making use of convertible vehicles so that passengers are in the open air.

“A lot of people are coming up really for the day or staying over for a one-night stay,” she said.

“And because everyone is just complying so well in all of British Columbia, I think the confidence is there.”

Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said the community has been taking a slow approach to reopening, and noted that many businesses remain shuttered and working on their safety plans.

He said the resort municipality is focused on having a strong July and August.

“We’re really trying to navigate this well and ensure we’re doing this safely,” said Crompton.

“Everyone keeps talking about the new normal, there will be a new normal for tourism. We will be physically distanced, we won’t have large groups meeting.”

In the meantime, Whistler’s usually bustling village promenade remains eerily quiet, but locals like Sebastiaan van Soest say they hope to see that change in the coming weeks.

“You just can see that the small businesses and everybody else who have been inside for the last few months just want to go outside, work again, get their social life back,” he said. “Including myself.”

— With files from John Hua

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