VANCOUVER — Just as the province announced people could resume recreational travel around B.C. as of June 15, the BC Ferries website began crashing, and its call centre was inundated.
As of early Monday evening, the site still had a message that read “currently unavailable.”
Replies to customer inquiries on social media indicated the Crown corporation had seen a lot of web traffic, and customer service representatives suggested people try calling back on Tuesday, if they didn’t need help right away.
BC Ferries executive director of public affairs Deborah Marshall said the issue was a “technical glitch.”
“I think a lot of customers did check out our website,” she said. “(We) just don’t know the root cause of that problem just yet, but (we are) actively working on it.”
The website includes travel schedules and a reservation booking system. Throughout the pandemic, government-related websites have been known to crash due to sudden spikes in people trying to make reservations, after weeks or months of lockdowns and restrictions. For example, last summer Parks Canada websites crashed when too many people tried to book camp sites at the same time.
Marshall said that beginning Tuesday, ticket agents will no longer have to ask ferry customers the reason for their trip. She said the full summer ferry schedule, which includes hundreds of extra sailings, will come into effect at the end of the month, though there is the ability to add sailings to the major routes before then “if the demand presents itself.”
Passengers will also be able to remove their masks outdoors at the ferry terminals, though face coverings are still mandated while on board the ships for now.
Tourism Vancouver Island president and CEO Anthony Everett said the restriction being lifted is “exciting” and something that “everybody’s been waiting for.”
“Bookings have been happening here on the island in anticipation,” he said. “I spent my morning talking to many businesses that are excited about the opening, but want people to be aware that they can’t offer the same level of service that they were (offering) prior to the pandemic.”
Everett said that’s because of an “acute” staffing shortage, which was an issue prior to Covid-19 as well, but has only gotten worse.
“Everybody needs to travel with a degree of patience,” he said, adding that some of the bigger resorts and hotels might be particularly challenged when it comes to food services, and may need to curtail their menus or hours of operation.
Everett said one kayak operator who used to employ more than 40 people is now down to about 12, and the bulk of its business used to come from international travellers.
“Ultimately the tourism industry needs to get back to welcoming people from around the world,” he said, and added the lifting of the restriction is an important first step in the industry’s recovery. “I firmly believe that this is going to take us years, if not a decade or more, to be where we were.”
Everett said there are still a lot of places around the island with room for bookings, and he’s encouraging people to try visiting somewhere new for that much-awaited change of scenery.