Tourism increases, so do basic costs for west coast families

Eric Plummer, December 3, 2018

A new report has set the living wage in Clayoquot Sound to be $20.11 an hour. (Eric Plummer photo)

Clayoquot Sound, BC — 

A dramatic rise in tourism on the west coast of Vancouver Island has corresponded with greater challenges for families trying to make ends meet, according to a report released in late November.

The Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Region’s 2018 Vital Signs report is informed by variety of statistical information and specialized studies on communities in the region, including Macoah, Hitacu, Ucluelet, Esowista, Ty-Histanis, Tofino, Opitsaht, Ahousht and Hot Springs Cove.

Citing increases in the cost of basic necessities in these communities, such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation, the report lists the living wage for the west coast region to be $20.11 an hour. This shows an 84-cent increase from the living wage in 2015, making the west coast the third highest region in B.C. for basic expenses, behind Vancouver and Victoria. The living wage is the necessary pay calculated to cover basic costs for a family of four, with both parents working year-round 35 hours a week.

Faye Missar, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust’s program coordinator, noted that the west coast region was the only in B.C. to experience a living wage increase over the last year.

“For other cities and towns, the introduction of the Universal Childcare Benefit was enough to offset their cost of living increases, but unfortunately it was not enough for our region,” she said. “The top two costs for west coast families in 2017 were housing and childcare. Since 2015, housing costs increased by $59.77 a month and childcare increased by $324.02 a month.”

Daycare may be less expensive in some remote communities than in Tofino or Ucluelet, but Missar said this can be offset by the costs of regularly travelling.

“While some communities benefit from lower housing and childcare costs, the face high travel costs and must travel outside their community for daily needs,” she said.

Meanwhile visitation to the region has increased dramatically in recent years, particularly to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Since the early 1990s tourism in the park has nearly tripled, including a 17 per cent rise over the two years leading up to the 1.1 million visits in 2017.

Now more than one third of workers in the region are employed in the tourism, retail and food services industries, but these are not necessarily the best jobs to keep up with rising costs, according to the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance.

“Skilled workers (managers, trades, teachers, healthcare workers, ect.) are more likely to earn above the living wage while those in occupations in tourism, retail trade and food services are more likely to earn below the living wage,” stated the VIEA in a 2017 economic report.

As in many other parts of the province, housing has become scarce in west coast communities, with the average number of available rental units in Tofino and Ucluelet dropping from 33 in 2013 to seven in 2017. The median assessed value of a house has also gone up in these communities over the last six years, rising 32 per cent in Ucluelet to $361,000 and 39 per cent in Tofino to $647,500.

Housing shortages are not limited these resort towns, as reserves in the region face similar challenges. In Ahousaht 1,100 residents live in approximately 200 homes, according to the Ahousaht Way: A Plan for Community-Oriented Primary Care.

“Ancillary service providers often are single occupants,” noted the 2017 study from the community. “This brings the ratio per house to an average of seven or eight or more. Overcrowding is an issue, as many homes have multiple generations residing together.”

The Vital Signs study also indicates that the increase in tourism has not necessarily corresponded with higher employment. The unemployment rate in Tofino has gone up by 29 per cent since 2001, with Ahousaht and Esowista facing respective increases of 41 per cent and 50 per cent in their rates of joblessness. With a population of 44, Hot Springs Cove’s unemployment rate has gone up by 127 per cent since 2001, according to Statistics Canada.

“Economic sectors relying on commercial fishing will continue to be vulnerable,” stated the Vital Signs report. “Wild salmon populations have been declining for the last 50 years due to cumulative pressures. This raises significant concerns for the future cultural, social, environmental and economic well-being of our west coast communities.”