B.C. entered the second stage of its reopening plan on Tuesday as COVID-19 cases dip. Mayors of two key travel destinations in the province said they are optimistic about the shape of their local economies after over a year of pandemic restrictions.

Some of the relaxed measures include outdoor gatherings up to 50 people, groups up to six people from different households dining at restaurants and recreational travel across the province. The latter is a big step for well-known travel spots in the province.

“Whistler and Vancouver are deeply connected and to be able to have that group of people back in our town is a really big deal,” said Jack Crompton, mayor of Whistler, a resort town in B.C.

In 2019, the travel and tourism sector contributed $8.7 billion to the B.C. economy, a record year for the province with over six million international visitors, according to Destination BC.

That took a downturn in 2020 when COVID-19 travel restrictions came into place with international arrivals down 87 per cent in 2020 and 96 per cent so far in 2021. As hospitality workers turned to other sectors, rehiring in the industry has also been a challenge.

“We’re hoping [hospitality workers] will come back because one of the most important things Whistler has to offer -- and has offered in the past-- is world-class hospitalities and we need people to do that,” said Crompton.

Despite the labour shortage, Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria​, said she is optimistic about the weeks and months ahead with vaccination rates giving businesses confidence.

“Everyone’s been hit hard – our tourism operators have been hit hard—but again, people are starting to rehire and redeploy their assets and that’s very positive,” she said. “We’ll have a good summer here.”

Both mayors argue the focus now should be on ensuring there are support measures implemented well throughout the recovery.

“The sun’s out and it feels like we are on the path towards reopening which is exciting,” said Crompton.