New Brunswick

Lack of tourists means Saint John hotels finish June with 5% occupancy rate

Saint John's hotel industry has seen a significant drop in occupancy rates since the virus showed up in New Brunswick in March.

The goal is to get to an occupancy rate of 30% by the end of the summer

Saint John had 90 cruise ship visits scheduled for this year. Before the season was cancelled earlier this spring, it was projected to be a record cruise season, with more than 200,000 visitors. (CBC)

Saint John's hotel industry has seen a significant drop in occupancy rates since the virus showed up in New Brunswick in March.

Paulette Hicks, president of the Saint John Hotel Association and general manager of the Delta Hotels Saint John, said the province would typically see a 70 to 90 per cent occupancy rate over the summer.

But at the end of June, the hotel industry in the Port City has an occupancy rate of just five per cent. 

"Our industry has certainly changed year over year," she said.

Hicks blamed the closure of New Brunswick borders with other provinces and the Canada-U.S. border. The area hasn't seen the volume of visitors from Ontario, Quebec or the U.S. over these past few weeks that it typically would

Paulette Hicks, president of the Saint John Hotel Association, said a number of hotel staff have been laid off across the province. (CBC)

Weddings and conventions have also been cancelled because of COVID-19.

The goal now is to finish the summer season with an occupancy rate of up to 30 per cent.

"It's realistic given what has happened to the world and our industry due to COVID."

Layoffs go from temporary to permanent 

Hicks said New Brunswick's hotel industry saw a number of temporary layoffs when the outbreak started, but these are becoming more permanent.

In the meantime, she said, people in the industry will need to work hard into 2021 to rebuild the hotel business and make sure people feel safe. 

Premier Blaine Higgs describes how the Atlantic bubble will work. 0:54

"We do anticipate we're not going to be able to recall our employees with the summer we were hoping for," she said. "This really is going to be a long time."

More than 270 WestJet employees in New Brunswick were also let go as part of the mass layoffs the Canadian airline announced earlier this week.

Hopes rise with Atlantic bubble 

This week, Premier Blaine Higgs announced the Atlantic travel bubble among all four Atlantic provinces starting July 3.

The hotel industry is hopeful this will bring in more tourists to various New Brunswick communities.

"We're pretty excited about the borders opening," Hicks said.

With New Brunswick cut off from the rest of Canada and the U.S, she's also hoping more New Brunswickers will be inspired to visit their own province this summer.

"It's an opportunity for New Brunswickers to look at their home province differently." 

Algonquin Hotel sees jump in stays 

Although business isn't back to normal yet, Pooja Rajmohan, director of sales for the Algonquin Resort in Saint Andrews, said hotel stays have increased since the hotel reopened last month.

Throughout the week there is a 30 to 40 per cent occupancy rate. And on weekends, it's high occupancy.

"As people have been at their homes all this while, we've started to have busy weekends and we're getting into busy weekdays," she said. 

The Algonquin Resort in Saint Andrews opened to guests in May and has seen an increase in hotel stays over the past month. (Facebook)

After many cancellations, Rajmohan said, more people have even started to book weddings of about 50 guests for July, August and September.

"Guests are very supportive because they understand it's their responsibility."

But occupancy rates are still going to be 50 per cent less than what they would have been during a typical summer.

The hotel's new normal also consists of taking employee temperatures before they start work and having a thermometer on hand at the front desk for guests.

She said hotel cleaners don't clean when a guest is occupying a room. Staff have also removed items from a room that are high-touch, such as cushions. 

Hotels rely on small operators to survive 

Hotels in the Saint John area and neighbouring communities have also come together to create basecampsaintawesome.holiday. It's a website devoted to attracting people to the entire region. The website promotes places like Grand Manan, Deer Island and Campobello Iisland and what people can do there.

Hicks said it's critical to support restaurants, galleries and other local businesses in these places because hotels rely on those operations to survive.

"People come to hotels because of what's around us and we recognize that," she said.

"If these smaller operators do not survive, that is actually going to be even more devastating for 2021 and beyond."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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