July/August 2020 – Facing the Music

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

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FROM LEFT: WISE BITES COLLECTIONS; CASCADIA AIR APRIL 2020 JULY/AUGUST 2020 BCBUSINESS 27 WHAT GOES UP MUST come down again. It's as true for Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket as it is for a balloon. Many in B.C.'s tourism industry must have known that the winning streak would end at some point: 2019 marked the 10th year in a row that revenue grew, reaching $21.5 billion, according to Destination British Columbia. But local players probably weren't expecting it to happen like this. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has struck tourism businesses around the world especially hard, it might be years before B.C. gets back to those 2019 numbers. "Having the brakes put on is pretty severe to our industry; it's been devastating," says Greg Klassen, partner at Vancouver-based tourism consulting firm Twenty31 and former interim CEO of Destination Canada. "Not only are we a high-touch business, which is a real challenge right now, we're also a business that relies on international travel, which is going to be one of the very last things that returns." When it comes to tourism in 2020, Destination BC is forecasting losses of about 130,000 jobs and $16.8 bil- lion in revenue. In hopes of cushioning the blow, the pro- vincial government agency has already provided $400,000 to help groups like the BC Association of Farmers' Markets and the BC Craft Brewers Guild support businesses, implement health and safety measures and develop marketing plans. Meanwhile, the British Columbia Regional Tour- ism Secretariat has launched the British Columbia Tourism Resiliency Network, which will receive $1 million in funding from Western Economic Diversification Canada. The industry's priority will be in encourag- ing interprovincial travel—when restrictions in smaller towns ease and governments and residents feel more secure about opening up their areas. That's certainly what Cascadia Airways is banking on. In a master class on bad timing, the Campbell River–based airline officially launched in January. So instead of sending paying customers up and down B.C.'s coast as planned, Cascadia pivoted to carrying essential personnel and cargo to remote communities. The shift, financed entirely by the company itself, just made sense, says COO and chief pilot Jeremy Barrett. "As people were starting to stop flying, we thought, Well, we don't want to collapse alongside with the industry," Barrett recalls. "We were already not operating at that point, so it was easier for us—we were still in the gear-up, startup mode." Although the gesture is partly about doing a service for British Columbians, it's also a strategic move that Barrett is hoping will get Cascadia's name out there. "This was a way for us as a new and emerging company to come out and show everybody that we're looking to build long-term relationships," he says. "We're not looking to come out, make a quick buck and go home." When told of Cascadia's dilemma, Klassen says the airline has a "super challenge for sure, but perhaps a glimmer of opportunity. They have a chance to build their business based on a post- COVID world rather than shift or transition the business they're in, like an Air Canada might have to do. They can design their aircraft, their procedures and business model to support the possibility of social distancing." Barrett agrees. Originally, Cascadia planned to fly small aircraft holding about nine passengers to places where larger carriers don't offer much service, like Gillies Bay, Port Alberni, Qualicum Beach and Tofino. So it won't have to reduce the workers a $1 hourly premium as well as a $300 bonus. Again, it's obvious that Stephens knows how fortunate he and Nature's Path–founded by his parents, Arran and Ratana–are in a fraught business. "I was attending a call by an invest- ment firm, and they were saying there were already some casualties within the consumer packaged goods industry," he recalls. "Some smaller com- panies were already in a pre- carious situation pre- COVID, and then it came and taxed their finances, and they weren't able to weather that." It certainly wasn't a smooth ride for Cathline James and Wise Bites Collections, the Richmond-based allergen-free baked goods producer she founded and leads. "Pre- COVID, we were excited, we were doing gangbusters–the first two weeks of March especially were fantastic for us," CEO James says. "And honestly, it was like someone turned off the tap on March 15." James kept the company running and producing small batches, but she had to temporarily lay off most of her nine employees. She used much of the downtime to strategize how to best move the business forward. "We don't want to really think of COVID as opportunity, but we really thought, OK, we're there with this; how can we adapt it to something good?" James remembers. "[We] worked on support- ing the community, creating boxes, making donations and really dug into the online business." By early June, James had rehired almost all of her staff, and she reckons it won't be long until the industry gets back on its feet: "It was all off, and it will be all on," she says, noting that Wise Bites has already seen custom- ers return and a growing interest in healthier options. "I think anyone in food production, if they can last through COVID and this downturn, then absolutely, there is a future. It's a very important industry for the province of B.C. and for Canada." –N.C. T O U R I S M Going Places? THE PROVINCE'S TOURISM INDUSTRY HAS COME TO A CRASHING HALT. BUT THERE MAY BE OPPORTUNITY IN THE WRECKAGE BC 2.0 TAKING OFF Campbell River–based Cascadia Air picked an interesting time to launch

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