02/18/2014 12:35 EST | Updated 04/20/2014 05:59 EDT

BC Ferries warned service cuts could hurt tourism

A group of European travel companies is asking the provincial government to reconsider BC Ferries service cuts to the central coast.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced in November the province was planning to cut nearly $19 million in ferry services, including cuts to minor and northern ferry routes. Stone confirmed reductions were going ahead, despite widespread opposition, earlier this month.

Tour operators in Germany are furious they were not told about the cuts, because their travel brochures were printed and trips were booked long before BC Ferries revealed its plans last fall. They say they are facing cancellations and huge financial losses, and have sent a letter to the province asking that it reconsider its plans to cancel the Discovery Coast route this summer.

The Discovery Coast route, which runs between Port Hardy and central coast ports like Bella Bella and Bella Coola, is vital to local tourism industries.

"With this short of notice, it's just crazy. These tour companies book a couple of years in advance in the wholesale tour company market," said Leonard Ellis, whose company Bella Coola Grizzly Bear Tours is popular among European travellers.

Ellis says he has already seen a sharp drop in bookings.

"The phone's not ringing. The emails are barely coming in whatsoever. We're getting nothing from European clientele."

The German companies are warning that cancelling the Discovery Coast route, in particular, could cause "serious and lasting damage" to tourism from Europe. They want the province to delay the cuts or provide financial compensation.

Ellis says if the cuts do go ahead, he could go bankrupt.