Provincial parks, trails and other tourist attractions set to reopen
Some services may be altered or eliminated because of COVID-19 restrictions
New Brunswick's tourism industry is open for business — although it's more self-serve than full-service at the moment.
While the government gave the green light for parks, trails, campgrounds and restaurants to open, they still have to abide by the conditions for the orange phase of the province's economic recovery plan.
As part of this phase, provincial parks and attractions will reopen with limited services, no events, and no programming or co-coordinated activities, said Tourism Minister Bruce Fitch on Tuesday.
"There'll be some attractions that won't have some of those interactive things for them … and I'm thinking more of King's Landing or some of the Acadian villages again, where we don't want to put our staff and maybe some of the visitors at risk," he said.
"It's going to be a little different, but I think, by and large, people will be able to enjoy the venues."
Oak Bay provincial park will open Thursday, and several more will follow Friday, including Mactaquac, New River Beach, and the Fundy Trail Parkway.
Several others will open later in the month or in June, many with reduced services.
Fitch said it was important to ensure proper staff training and that everything meets government guidelines, including appropriate signage and personal protective equipment for staff members. He said all employees will be screened before they start working.
"Services will be offered differently than before but, by following the Public Health directives, we will be able to enjoy again the wonders and beauty of our province while continuing to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus."
Some trails, for example, will be one way, he said.
The head of the province's tourism and hospitality association said many businesses have had to make adjustments to their summer plans.
"They're struggling obviously, because it's additional costs for them to meet the regulations," said Carol Alderdice.
"Some of them aren't even bothering to open because, you know, for the short amount of time that they would be open, and the amount of dollars that it would cost to get ready, they're just going to not open this summer."
Others have had to modify their summer plans and cut back on anything that doesn't conform to the province's rules for opening.
Alderdice said the "new normal" will include putting cleaning protocols on full display — something that would have been thought "rude" before a global pandemic.
She said it will be important for patrons to see things being cleaned in front of them, "where you tend to do that behind the scenes or when nobody's looking."
Alderdice is also a big fan of the "staycations" that government has been promoting.
"This province is the most beautiful province anywhere, and a lot of us have not seen it the way that we should," she said.
"So this is a perfect opportunity to visit all these beautiful places."
Alderdice said New Brunswickers should be proud that we've been able to keep the coronavirus at bay.
"So let's continue that pride and visit our beautiful province so that we can all be ambassadors or advocates for the province when people do start to visit."
When the borders are open, she said it may not be easy to convince people that it's safe to travel, but setting a good example within our borders will be a start.
But she knows that not all businesses will be around to greet out-of-province tourists when they're allowed to visit. Her group did a survey at the beginning of the state of emergency and 20 per cent of respondents said they wouldn't survive beyond three months and would have to close permanently.
Others have decided to write off the 2020 season. The Reversing Falls Restaurant, in Saint John, is one of them.
Owner Max Kotlowski said his restaurant — and the skywalk that sits atop it — will not open this year at all.
"We don't feel like it's worthwhile," said Kotlowski.
He said he was gearing up to open for the tourist season on May 8. But on March 13, he made the decision to close for the entire season. He hopes to be back in business for the 2021 season.
The Reversing Falls Restaurant had been open year-round until last December, when Kotlowski decided to become a seasonal business.
Even if the borders were to open with Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, there still wouldn't be enough visitors to warrant opening, he said.
"We were actually hoping for a gain of 10,000 visitors. Last year, we had 17,000 visitors to the skywalk and we were hoping to increase that, but with a decline of this proportion, it's a no-brainer that there's not going to be enough business for us to open."
Tourism as economic driver
Fitch said it's important to get tourism going for more than just economic reasons.
"People have been working very hard, who continue to work, and there's other people that have been cooped up a little bit and been isolated. So both of those folks need to get out and enjoy some wide open space and some down time."
He said tourism is also "a significant factor in contributing to our GDP, and a significant number of employees are associated with the tourism industry."
"So it's key. It's key for the mental health of everyone in New Brunswick and it's key to get the economy going again."
Fitch echoed Premier Blaine Higgs's invitation for New Brunswickers to explore our own province this summer.
"It's amazing" that so many New Brunswickers haven't visited some of the province's tourist attractions, he said.
"There are some wonderful opportunities in the province of New Brunswick that people have an opportunity to explore this summer. They don't necessarily need to go to one of our sister provinces — as beautiful as they are. They can have a wonderful summer right here in New Brunswick."
But he stressed the importance of continuing to abide by the conditions imposed by parks and trails and other destinations.
"Hopefully, New Brunswickers can realize that this pandemic's not over yet, and they need to be diligent in making sure that they abide by those rules, so it doesn't come back in a second wave and we find ourselves back isolated again."
The following provincial parks will reopen with services limited to trails and beaches, public washrooms, limited restaurant services (where applicable), seasonal and daily camping.
New River Beach
Anchorage (Grand Manan Island)
Fundy Trail Parkway
Herring Cove (Campobello Island)
de la République
Sugarloaf Provincial Park trails, but camping won't start until May 29. The bike park with chairlift service will open on June 13.
A few more opening dates:
The Village Historique Acadien — June 9
Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park — June 5.
NB Botanical Gardens — June 6
Kings Landing (Wednesday to Sunday) — June 3.
No dates have been set for the following:
Miscou Island (Lighthouse and Visitor information centre)
Doak Provincial Heritage Place
Bonar Law Provincial Heritage Place
Sheriff Andrews Provincial Heritage Place
Ministers Island Provincial Heritage Place
MacDonald Farm Provincial Heritage Place
The provincial government's website says that since provincial borders remain closed to non-essential travel, "provincial parks, campgrounds and other tourist attractions are only accessible to New Brunswick residents and other individuals that have the proper authorization to be in the province."
The province also warns that "openings are subject to change in accordance with the state of emergency and directives from Public Health and the provincial government."