The usual winter slowdown for businesses on the Coast could be an opportunity to “re-engage” and build on the lessons learned from weathering the early months of the COVID downturn, according to Colin Stansfield, the executive director of the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO).
SCREDO was one of the groups involved in the Sunshine Coast Business Recovery Centre (BRC), which started up in May.
Stansfield said as the local economy moves into new phases of its recovery, the BRC is also getting ready to shift focus to “how we continue to build on the strengths that have been developed through the last few months of business innovation on the Coast.”
“There was wonderful uptake [for BRC services] back in May and June, and then folks just got really busy. We had a good strong summer tourist season here, so folks were busy running their shops,” Stansfield said.
“Now that we have the typical seasonal downturn they have a chance to re-engage and build on the things that they have learned over these past few months.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has been surveying members monthly since the pandemic hit and the most recent responses indicate about 64 per cent of the country’s small businesses have fully reopened, although it’s only 31 per cent for the hospitality sector, but only 28 per cent are reporting normal sales income.
Thirteen per cent of the businesses that responded to the survey in late August and early September said they were still unsure whether they’d still be operating in six months.
Stansfield said it’s hard to say if the CFIB results can be taken as an indicator of what’s happening on the Sunshine Coast.
“When it comes down to how businesses are faring, I think all the discussion around a ‘K’ shaped recovery is very accurate for what we’re seeing here,” he said. “There are two different recoveries happening, with folks who have done well through the summer and are continuing to do great, and others who are maybe a little bit slower [to recover].”
Stansfield said the Sunshine Coast economy has traditionally followed a seasonal cycle and many businesses had been prepared for summer to be a lot worse than it was.
Paul Kamon, executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT), said after restrictions and advisories against non-essential travel were lifted there was a surge from “pent-up travel demand.”
He said statistics from the visitor centres suggest September was busier than July, particularly in short-term rental bookings. “Things have definitely picked up.”
Kamon also said that while some tourism businesses were able to get back to near full operation over the summer, for others “the window opened and closed” on the season before they could do things like hire extra summer staff.
SCT shifted its marketing emphasis to the local market in an effort to get Coast residents to explore their home communities, and Kamon said as well as helping local businesses, it brought home the importance of the tourism industry.
“The awareness of Sunshine Coast tourism, and the tourism industry, has been raised because we were targeting residents, we were targeting our friends and family that all live here,” Kamon said.
“[People] were supportive of it because they recognized that it’s their friends and their families and the businesses here on the Coast that they value.”
Kamon said heading into October, SCT resumed off-Coast promotion around events like the Art Crawl and Sechelt Arts Festival, which are taking place with COVID precautions.
He said the promotional efforts will continue to focus on “safe responsible travel” so that “we can walk that fine line where we’re allowing our economy to operate, but in a very controlled and safe way.”