Calls for solutions grow as tourists leave negative comments about trips to Chinatown and Gastown

Business associations close to the Downtown Eastside area and tourism promoters will meet this week to discuss what role they can play.


Tourism websites suggest that you could easily spend half a day in Vancouver’s Chinatown experiencing the historic neighborhood, exotic restaurants, and specialty shops.

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But in recent days, the comments left by visitors on Tripadvisor have not been so flattering.

“Doesn’t feel safe”, “Forbidden area” and “Avoid, avoid, avoid-shocking-sad-neighborhoods”, were some of the descriptions left by tourists from India, the Netherlands and the UK. Others mentioned random violence, widespread graffiti, and dire conditions for the homeless.

Business associations near the Downtown Eastside and tourism promoters are meeting this week to discuss what role they can play in improving these poor first impressions.

“We have heard about conversations with tourists and concerns with some of the things that people see on the streets. There’s a sense of a dire situation here in the Downtown Eastside and we’re certainly concerned if it’s going to affect tourism,” said Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society.

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It comes as the city of Vancouver has been working to tear down makeshift shelters on East Hastings Street between Main and Carrall Street due to fire safety concerns.

On Sunday, the mayor urged the provincial government to reform the justice system to deal with prolific criminals endangering public safety and respond to the need for mental health services after a suspect set fire to an apartment earlier in the day. to attack its residents with a machete.

“We continually emphasize that we know we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis, with this camp and the camps in our city, and just the lack of places for people to go. But then, we also have to look at the broader community and the impacts that they will have,” Wargolet said.

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He said that with the pandemic still ongoing, many businesses are still struggling to recover despite more traffic on the streets in recent weeks.

“We need years of that to come, and if there is a bruise on the brand of what Vancouver is, and if it has a negative impact and people don’t want to visit our city, that’s a huge concern that we have and it’s something we need to address. ”.

Destination Vancouver CEO Royce Chwin said his organization’s responsibility is to make sure Vancouver can emerge from the pandemic with a vibrant tourism economy, worth $5 billion annually and employing more than 100,000 people. He said there have been negative tourist reviews of these downtown neighborhoods for more than a decade.

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Abelardo Mayoral-Fierros has booked international bands at venues like The Rickshaw Theater on East Hastings Street for years. Its returning visitors have long said that some conditions in the Downtown Eastside sit alongside streets in rough areas of San Francisco or Detroit.

But recently, it has seemed worse, he said. In April, a band’s tour bus was tagged with graffiti and members found overdosed people next to and under it. Now he hires additional security to keep an eye on his parked buses.

“I still do because the place inside is great. During the day, outside, when we are unloading, there are screams. He’s more aggressive than he used to be,” Mayoral-Fierros said.

Lorraine Lowe, executive director of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, said employees have been greeted with racist anti-Asian rants when they arrive at work, as well as waves of vandalism and trash and feces regularly left on their gates.

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“We are very considerate when directing visitors back to the waterfront area, giving them a clear path on where (not to go) and take an Uber or a taxi or walk to Abbott Street and travel north.”

She has been in contact with her counterparts in Portland and Seattle and said they are reporting a similar situation with the concentration of poverty and drug treatment services.

Lowe said it’s complex, but the result is that some of the poorest and most marginalized residents who live in the SROs in East Hastings feel unsafe in their tight spaces, yelled at and assaulted.

Jordan Eng of the Chinatown Business Improvement Association said there are small business owners trying to feed their families and take care of their homes and employees.

“We grew up in this neighborhood. This was always a low-income area. The SROs were where the loggers and miners came in and drank in the pubs and got drunk and messed around and stayed to dry off and go back to work,” Ing said.

“This is a totally different situation. You look at the people who just passed out.”

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