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Businesses right across Atlantic Canada say recovery continues to be slow
Despite the Atlantic bubble, tourism operators are still questioning whether the season is shot thanks to COVID-19.
That includes Shane Gardiner, owner of Splash n' Putt Resort, located at the west entrance to Terra Nova National Park near Glovertown. Given lack of the waterpark attraction, he is still trying to determine whether it is worth it to open up the property's cabin rentals this year.
Gardiner had already decided not to open the attractions park on the same site, which features a waterslide, miniature golf course, bumper cars, pools, bumper boats, and go-karts, saying it was too difficult to run it while complying with new COVID-19 guidelines.
“We are now trying to decide what to do about the cabins, as bookings are down a lot,” he says, noting at this time of year, they normally would be filling up pretty quickly.
The extra cleaning adds extra expenses, and if they had lots of bookings, they would need to hire extra cleaning staff.
“It’s possibly cheaper to stay closed. We have to decide soon,” says Gardiner.
"We are now trying to decide what to do about the cabins, as bookings are down a lot... It’s possibly cheaper to stay closed." — Shane Gardiner, Splash 'n Putt
Desiree Carter of PEI Travel Concierge Services in Fortune Bridge, who also runs a rental property, says she, along with everyone she had spoken with, initially lost all their bookings for this summer.
Because of the Atlantic bubble, Carter says things have slowly begun to pick up and they have gotten bookings over the past few weeks.
“We have already accommodated a few Islanders as guests, and now we are starting to get bookings from fellow Maritimers as the borders open,” she says.
To stay open, Carter had to make some changes to her rental property.
“We have lowered our price to accommodate Islanders,” she says. “We have always had only a three-night minimum stay at our place, but we changed it to a two-night stay for summer 2020 because we know most Islanders cannot rent a place for an entire week.”
John Cudmore is the president of Dyne Holdings Limited, which includes the Dundee Arms Inn, The Holman Grand Hotel and The Arts Hotel, all located in Charlottetown, P.E.I. He says the company is creating promotions to attract locals and offer incentives for other Atlantic Canadians.
“We are promoting staycation packages that include dining at our on-site restaurant, Redwater Rustic Grille, and shopping at Confederation Court Mall. We are also implementing packages such as a two-night stay with a bridge pass, now that the border opened,” says Cudmore.
When it comes to physical changes inside accommodations and changes to workplace procedures, plexiglass barriers and arrows with signage have been put in place for the protection of the guests and staff, says Kimberley Russell, guest services agent for the Point Pleasant Lodge, a Halifax hotel that provides rooms exclusively for people undertaking medical-related travel in the Halifax area.
“Hotel guidelines require social distancing, masks, sanitizing before and after each shift of work area and equipment,” says Russell.
In the case of Dyne Holdings properties, Cudmore says staff no longer enter guests’ rooms during their stay.
“We are taking enhanced cleaning very seriously and want to ensure all guests feel safe staying with us,” adds Cudmore.
Because Carter operates a single fixed-roof dwelling and never comes in physical contact with her guests, she says her plan was simple enough: extra cleaning and sanitizing everything after guests vacate, which she says they always did anyway.
The added costs of bringing in extra sanitizers, gloves, and masks - as well as hiring extra cleaning staff and making changes to the physical workplace - may be too much for many accommodations, however.
Cudmore says there is a real fear in the industry that many of these accommodations will not survive the pandemic. Even for Dyne Holdings Limited, only one of their properties, the Holman Grand, stayed open the entire time.
“A few places have decided not to open this year. I think for some, they just couldn’t make it work,” says Carter. “But I think most accommodations will try and push through this summer and do the best they can, that’s all they can do.”
‘Lack of demand’
One point worth noting, says Carter, is that there is an imbalance of rentals to Islanders. Prince Edward Island welcomed over a million visitors in 2019, and tourism has been increasing every year. The Island population has increased as well but hasn’t kept pace with the number of accommodations for tourism.
“We have so many rentals and hotels and inns on the Island because of our tourism, to fulfill the needs of those visiting P.E.I.,” she said. “I find it hard to imagine that every rental and hotel and inn will be booked the entire summer as in years past. So, hopefully everyone can make it through and that summer 2021 will be busy and robust.”
With the incentives from the government, such as the wage subsidy, Cudmore says it is worth it form them to be open.
“We are working with a reduced staff, but have started bringing people back across all areas, including the front desk, housekeeping and restaurant,” Cudmore said.
“There are over 1,000 guest rooms in the Charlottetown area, and with the past uncertainty around when tourists might be allowed to come over, there is a serious lack of demand.”
Despite the borders opening in Atlantic Canada, Russell says she’s still not seeing a big bump in reservations.
“People are still wary to travel,” she says.
This is evident as she travels through the hotel district in Halifax, noticing the 24-hour hotels with closed curtains and no lights on.
“It's going to be a very long, lonely summer for hotels with all the major events being cancelled. It is a big hit to the tourism industry,” says Russell.
Accommodations, however, are always going to be needed.
As long as there are people travelling, whether for business or pleasure, there will always be the need for hotels, says Russell.
“To help our industry, continue to frequent the hotels you would normally stay at but also understand that things will have changed,” says Russell.
She also advises people to do their research before travelling. Hotels that offer pools, convention centers and other public gathering spots may not currently offer those services or have limited numbers of people allowed at any one time, she adds.
And, if you are not planning on staying overnight, Cudmore says you can still visit hotel restaurants. All of this, he adds, helps to stimulate the whole economy as well.