While a trip to the interior is not in the cards these days, non-essential travel within our region – that is within the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health Authorities – is allowed under provincial guidelines as of last week.
What does this mean down at the visitors’ centre? As per the service agreement with Bowen Island Municipality, the Tourism Bowen-operated service beside the library is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.(ish) May long weekend to through September. The tourism non-profit had been telling people since November (as per provincial guidelines) to please put off coming to Bowen during high COVID-19 case counts. Now, with regional leisure travel restored, it’s slipping into its destination management role.
“We are doing our best with the people that we talk to to ask them to please travel responsibly and respect COVID health and safety protocols,” said Jody Lorenz, Tourism Bowen’s administrator, while acknowledging they don’t speak to everyone.
“I just want to reassure some [locals]. I know they’re nervous,” says Lorenz. She invites anyone with concerns or questions to come down to the visitors’ centre to chat. “Our objectives are to responsibly manage visitors,” she said. “We help people find washrooms. We help people find the public trails, public beaches, we connect people from a community economic development perspective, we connect people with restaurants and shops and activities.”
That being said, Lorenz said it’s been quiet since she opened the centre. “I was expecting it to be busier this past weekend but it was actually really quite quiet,” she said.
And while last year, she and her staff were doing education on COVID protocols, this year, folks know the program. “My experience last year was people were understanding and respectful and I am just getting the same this year.”
Clarity around non-essential travel and ferries
That being said, Brent O’Malley, owner of Bowen Island Sea Kayaking, found some frustration when he boarded the Queen of Capilano as a foot passenger Monday morning and heard an announcement discouraging non-essential travel. There’s also still a giant road sign in Snug Cove discouraging non-essential travel.
“Having one announcement issued from the BC Ferries head office that needs to be read on every sailing across all of BC Ferries’ sailings is perpetuating confusion and misinformation,” O’Malley said in a letter to the ferry service and municipal council. “The announcement this morning implied that non-essential travel to Bowen was not allowed.”
As Bowen’s route is entirely within VCH (as is the Horseshoe Bay to Langdale route), travel for non-essential reasons for residents of the region is allowed.
The onboard recordings had to be re-recorded so took some time, said Darin Guenette, manager of community relations, strategy and community engagement with BC Ferries in an email. As of Wednesday, the new recordings were sent to the ships, said Guenette. The "no essential travel" messaging is gone.
The road sign, however, was not put up by BC Ferries but by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
The ministry said in an email June 7 that "Essential travel only signs on routes that do not cross health authority boundaries are being removed this week."
April ferry passenger numbers still lower than usual years
While it’ll be a bit before the May BC Ferries traffic numbers are out, here’s what April’s passenger stats Horseshoe Bay to Bowen looked like:
- April 2021: 39,689 passengers
- April 2020: 17,922 passengers
- April 2019: 53,574 passengers