Nfld. & Labrador

The Atlantic bubble is coming, but don't expect a huge boost, says hotel owner

"It's still very early in the game, but … I don't think it's going to be a huge thing for us," says hotelier John Steele.

Still feeling of wariness around travel, says travel agent

Hotel owner John Steele says his hotels are operating at 10 to 15 per cent capacity, and he doesn't expect to see a large boost from people visiting from other provinces this summer. (CBC)

The introduction of the Atlantic bubble is a step in the right direction for the hospitality industry, industry players say, although they warn the lift may not be as large as some think. 

"It's still very early in the game, but if I was to extrapolate out forward what it would mean for us, I don't think it's going to be a huge thing," said John Steele, who runs Steele Hotels and operates seven inns across the province.

"It'll probably mean more Newfoundlanders leaving, going to parts of the Maritimes as opposed to a bunch of Maritimers coming to Newfoundland … but I don't believe it's going to result in saving the summer or anything like that."

The Atlantic bubble was announced Wednesday, and will take effect July 3. 

COVID-19 cases in the four Atlantic provinces have dropped in recent months, creating the possibility of a bubble between Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. (CBC News)

The bubble will allow travellers from Newfoundland and Labrador, along with Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to enter any Atlantic province without having to self-isolate for 14 days. The provinces worked with their respective chief medical officers of health to set travel guidelines.

Before the Atlantic bubble, Steele said, his hotels have been operating at about 10 to 15 per cent occupancy. Based on past years, he said the hotels would be making money at around 60 per cent occupancy.

He hopes more bookings will come, but understands the challenges of travel as the pandemic continues.

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfounland and Labrador, have formed a “travel bubble” allowing residents to travel without restrictions within the four provinces. 1:56

"We're doing everything that we can to ensure that our customers and our employees are safe in our properties," he said. "But a lot of people are still hesitant about getting on a plane, and who will they be sitting next to.… Over time, people will get more comfortable and that, but it's going to take time."

A "managed opening" should work, Steele said, but he added they have to keep their expectations realistic about income that will flow to hospitality businesses. 

'Still an amount of wariness,' travel agent says

Barb Hutton, a travel agent with Executive Travel in St. John's, said the business has been getting calls since the bubble was announced. Now that rules around self-isolation have changed, she expects a small jump in the number of travellers.

"Without having to [isolate] in the Atlantic provinces, [travel] will pick up a bit," she said. "There's a lot of people with relatives within the four provinces, so it should pick up a bit."

Airports like St. John's International have been much quieter since the pandemic began. Travel agent Barb Hutton says the loss of flights and people's reservations about travelling now could affect the travel industry for months to come. (Chris Murphy/The Weather Network)

However, like Steele, Hutton said the most important factor for travellers to begin moving again is a personal sense of safety. 

"There is still an amount of wariness," she said. "There's some people that probably aren't going to travel for a year or so to come. Then there's other people who are going to hop on a plane the minute you're allowed outside the country."

Hutton said while the borders of the Atlantic provinces have opened, she predicts she won't see a large spike in business as smaller markets in the region are not often big sellers for travel agencies.

Pack your bags! Come July 3rd you can visit the other Atlantic provinces once more... and tourists from there can come here. We find out what Hospitality NL thinks of it all. 7:40

"It's not a huge market. It's not going to make a huge difference in my business," she said. "I'm not making a lot of money on a little ticket [to Halifax]."

Rita Raymond, owner of Whale Song Bed & Breakfast in St. Vincent's, is in a similar boat. She decided to open her doors to locals, but doesn't expect the Atlantic Bubble to bring a surge of customers.

"I doubt we'll see anybody from Atlantic Canada," she told CBC Radio's On The Go on Thursday.

"We never have before, but it could change this year, there's always a chance," Raymond added. "I've never had guests from P.E.I. or New Brunswick, and we've been open 10 years."

What do you think of the fact that we're moving to an Atlantic travel bubble next week? 55:07

Raymond said the majority of her guests in the past have come from provinces like Ontario and the United States, whose borders are still closed to Newfoundland and Labrador. She said she took a chance opening this summer, hoping she will be able to pay the bills.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cec Haire and On The Go

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