N.L. tourism sector frustrated to be left out of Atlantic bubble discussion
One economist says impact likely won't be large
Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism industry is among the sectors hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite chatter about the other Atlantic provinces potentially expanding to create one bubble, this one isn't in on the discussion.
Steve Denty, chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, told CBC News on Thursday that about half of the province's $1.14-billion in tourism revenue comes from residential vacations, but business owners would be interested in expanding N.L.'s bubble to help make up the other half.
"Obviously we're not going to replace an entire season with only local staycations," said Denty, who added the Maritimes are a prime market for tourism in N.L.
"I do think by sort of selling the idea of a variety of experiences in Atlantic Canada there's great potential to get people exploring the region and certainly coming to Newfoundland and Labrador to see things they haven't and spend their money here in our province."
Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said Wednesday that discussions are ongoing with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia about opening a bubble, potentially in July.
Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.'s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday the low number of cases throughout Atlantic provinces over the last few weeks opens the door to the possibility of movement within Atlantic Canada without having to self-isolate upon arriving in a different province.
"I think certainly we would like to do that. I know the public would, for the most part, like to do that and and I believe the premiers would like to do that," she said.
"So it is something that we are definitely thinking about it and it would make a difference — being able to move back and forth."
When asked if Newfoundland and Labrador would fit the criteria, Morrison said she would like to include the province in the bubble.
N.L. not ready: premier's office
But Premier Dwight Ball's office told CBC News on Thursday that Newfoundland and Labrador has not been part of a "Maritime bubble" conversation, and did not provide further comment.
"The concept of an 'Atlantic bubble' is something that could only be considered once Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the opportunity to move more freely within our own province. Any future broader movement would need to be determined in accordance with the best public health advice at the time," reads the statement.
Denty said it's frustrating for the province to not be involved in the discussion.
"Hospitality Newfoundland Labrador have vocally said the health and safety of consumers and of the staff who work in our business is paramount," he said.
"We certainly respect the job that the province has done in protecting the health and welfare of citizens. But given how good a job we've done in monitoring the crisis, I do think the time is right now to talk about expanding our bubble, be it to Atlantic Canada or other provinces. So to not even be engaged in those discussions is, quite frankly, a little frustrating."
On Monday Ball and the provincial government announced $25 million in funding to help support the tourism industry as the province begins to slowly reopen.
Newfoundland and Labrador closed its borders to non-essential travel on May 4 to contain the spread of COVID-19. It also has an order in place requiring anyone entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days and provide a detailed self-isolation plan.
Government officials have said there is no timeline for lifting the travel restriction. The closure — coupled with the controversial amendment to Bill 38, which allows peace officers to detain and deport non-essential travelers, as well as a pending charter challenge that claims the provincial government is infringing on mobility rights — has been an ongoing saga.
In late April Premier Dwight Ball said the provincial government will look to promote vacations from inside the province once it is safe to do so.
On Thursday Dennis Bruce, a private sector economist in Corner Brook, told CBC News he supports the province being open to greater access for tourism. However, Bruce said he doesn't believe being open to just other Atlantic provinces will have a large impact on the tourism sector. In a typical year, he said, about 15 per cent of tourists come to N.L. from the Maritimes, and this year's tourism season has already been shortened by the pandemic.
"So if you look at a typical year the impact of Maritime visitors on the province probably could be in the range of eight to 10 per cent … on the sector. But that's just looking at things one way," Bruce said.
"I think if we wanted to look at the true impact on the tourist sector from expanding the bubble ... there's going be folks from the Maritimes visiting our province, but that could be offset by folks from our province visiting the Maritimes now."
Bruce said there are three things that will drive down tourism this year:
- A depressed market throughout the Maritimes, including 125,000 jobs lost in April.
- The difficulty of travelling to different parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a reduction of service at the Deer Lake airport and a suspension of operations by the Argentia ferry.
- Uncertainty about whether people will feel comfortable travelling during the pandemic.
With files from Peter Cowan