Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. tourism operators feel cautious relief as end of COVID restrictions draw near

Tourism and hospitality business owners are looking ahead to what may be the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

'There was a feeling of optimism, but also it came as a surprise,' says chair of Hospitality N.L.

Brenda O'Reilly is the chair of the Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador board of directors. (CBC)

Tourism and hospitality business owners are looking ahead to what may be the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, as two years of public health restrictions begin to lift.

Newfoundland and Labrador is inching toward completely dropping COVID-19 measures by mid-March, following the lead of other provinces across Canada, despite new infections and deaths continuing to add up. 

The announcement came less than a week ago, when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province's high vaccination rates, availability of therapeutic medications and a less severe strain of the virus stacked up to form her decision: to gradually wind down pandemic mandates each Monday leading up to the March 14 end date. 

The tourism and hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Travel restrictions to N.L. kept mainland and international travellers mostly at bay in the early going, slashing revenue streams to razor-thin margins for operators who desperately tried to weather the storm. 

Now some business owners are feeling relief. 

"There was a feeling of optimism, but also it came as a surprise," said Brenda O'Reilly, chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, a non-profit organization that represents tourism and hospitality operators throughout the province.

"I do know that there's a lot of operators right now getting calls.… Immediately there was reaction."

Bookings starting

Among those already seeing an increased interest in their businesses are Cindy Whelan-Purtill and John Purtill, owners of the Georgestown Inn in St. John's.

In three weeks COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, and the duo say calls are steadily flowing in. 

Owners of the Georgestown Inn in St. John's say their phone is already ringing with customers planning trips to Newfoundland and Labrador. (Georgetown Inn/Facebook)

"We're feeling a lot of relief. We're hearing a lot of pent-up frustration, honestly," Whelan-Purtill said Monday. 

"We're also hearing that some of these trips are trips that people had planned on doing two years ago, and are now going to make sure that they're going to come into fruition."

But with restrictions lifting, owners remain cautious of the lingering virus. Whelan-Purtill said customers are wary of another lockdown before or during their stay in St. John's, and many are asking if they will be refunded for their deposit if that happens. 

John Purtill said his business will keep some COVID-19 protocols in place, such as screening at the door and a focus on disinfection, to keep his family and customers safe. 

Watching developments

John Steele, president of Steele Hotels, said last week's announcement was nice to hear but it's important to watch how things develop. 

"The virus doesn't go away, but I think it's time, with the high vaccination rates, that things start to open up," he said. 

"I think we should be watching what happens in countries like Denmark and the United Kingdom. They seem to be ahead of us in opening up, and they have high vaccination rates, and hopefully things go well."

John Steele, president of Steele Hotels, says with the high vaccination rates it's time things start to open up. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Steele said the last two years have been a challenge but his businesses have made it through so far. 

Steele also operates the Iceberg Alley concert series — an annual 10-day festival that has faced its own challenges during the pandemic. Last September it was set to take place with public health restrictions in full force.

However, it wasn't the pandemic that forced some cancellations, but Hurricane Larry, which demolished the tented venue on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake. The remaining shows moved to the Mary Brown's Centre. 

The festival is back, this year, planned for June instead of in the fall, at the same location and under another massive tent. Iceberg Alley made the announcement just a day after the province announced its plan to lift restrictions. 

"We felt that by the time June came we would be in the position where we would be able to have a successful festival again," said Steele. 

"I think we're going to be bigger and better. I think it was growing all the time. It takes a while to establish a festival.… I think we built a very good, loved event."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Moore

Journalist

Mike Moore is a journalist who works with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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