Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. will reopen its borders Thursday. Here's why hospitality players are staying realistic

Some in the hammered hospitality industry are remaining realistic with their expectations this summer as Newfoundland and Labrador is a day away from reopening its doors completely for the first time since May 2020.

Government says it will continue to support battered industry

Tourism operators say the road to recovery won't be a short one, as the province readies itself to lift a long-standing tourism ban enacted last year. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador is only a day away from opening its doors to the rest of Canada for leisure travelling — the first time since May 2020, when the province enacted a strict travel order only allowing in residents and essential workers.

But some in the hammered hospitality industry are remaining realistic with their expectations this summer. 

John Steele, president of Steele Hotels, told CBC News on Tuesday reopening has been a long time coming, adding he and other operators have understood the need for regulations to keep the public safe during the pandemic. 

Steele said movement is beginning to happen in his sector but he isn't expecting a large influx of visitors to his hotels until late in the season. 

"I don't think movement is going to really start happening until the vast majority of the public has been double vaccinated," he said. 

"There will be some pickup, but I think once you get into August, September, I think that's when you'll really start seeing it."

Steele said he thinks people still won't travel until they are comfortable, and that will come when a higher percentage of the population has two doses.  

John Steele, president of Steele Hotels, says he doesn't expect the tourism season to get busy until more people are fully vaccinated. (Mike Simms/CBC)

Steele Hotels operates two hotels in St. John's, four in Gander and one in Corner Brook. Steele said his businesses' phones have been ringing, but things aren't overly busy. 

"We've been blessed that we've been able to ride this out. I'm very grateful for that, and I feel, overall, the future will be good," he said. 

"But I do know a lot of people that are in the industry are having a very tough time with it. So the sooner that we can get open in a safe manner the better."

Support from government will continue: minister

Tourism Minister Steve Crocker told CBC News the tourism season will have challenges, evident, he said, from a report tabled by industry leaders that indicates there will likely be only about $250 million in drummed-up revenue this season rather than the $1.2 billion seen in a normal year. 

Because the industry continues to struggle, Crocker said, the province has continued its support program and is looking at ways to market itself differently, including with a "staycation" campaign. He said the province's national tourism marketing campaign has been running throughout the winter and early spring in its usual hot spots in Ontario and Alberta, which he says make up a large portion of the province's tourists. 

"We want to open up as many markets as we can, knowing it's going to be challenging, but we plan on keeping supports for the industry in place," Crocker said. 

"We know we have to get people back into our market to help provide the success we need."

Mark McCarthy, president of McCarthy's Party Tours and Convention Services, harbours hope for the 2021 season. (CBC)

Mark McCarthy, president of McCarthy's Party Tours and Convention Services, said he can't wait for visitors to begin taking in the sights of Newfoundland and Labrador once again.

His business started in 1982 as a tour guide service, offering seven- to 12-day guided excursions around the island and south coast of Labrador. Its last guided tour was in October 2019. 

McCarthy said interest in his services has been booming since the announcement of the province reopening, and is optimistic his company will continue on the road to recovery over the next 24 months. 

"We're really excited to get back at it and get back to what we love doing, which is hosting," he said. 

"By the amount of people who have rebooked for this year, the amount of people who are booking now for 2022 in particular … I think we're going to come out of this thing pretty well in the next two years." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts and Peter Cowan

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