Nfld. & Labrador

Reopening plan a huge relief for N.L. tourism industry, operators say

Tourism operators across Newfoundland and Labrador say they're ready to welcome tourists with open arms once the province reopens its borders to the rest of Canada. Fully vaccinated visitors will be welcome as early as July 1.

Summer might be a slow build for big fall season, say operators

Bonnie Stagg and her husband, Jordan Stagg, operate the Bonavista Adventure Tours company in Bonavista. (Bonavista Adventure Tours/Facebook)

Tourism operators across Newfoundland and Labrador say they're ready to welcome tourists with open arms once the province reopens its borders to the rest of Canada.

The news of a reopening plan came as a welcome sign of relief for Bonnie Stagg of Bonavista, who wasn't been able to open her Bonavista Adventure Tours business last year.

"I'm not gonna lie, it was really stressed out," Stagg told CBC News following the announcement. "I was like, 'Am I making the right decision?' So it's a little bit of a relief that, OK, now we're going to start seeing more people flow through our business."

The provincial government on Wednesday announced its plan to open its provincial border to Canadians as early as July 1. Fully vaccinated travellers will be able to enter the province without a self-isolation period or needing a negative COVID-19 test, while those partially vaccinated must present a pre-departure negative test result or self-isolate upon arrival until they receive a negative test result.

To Stagg, the announcement is a sign of hope for her growing business, and the starting point of attracting people outside Newfoundland and Labrador to the region.

"I'm already prepped and ready to go. Got all my packaging and all my pots and pans.… I'm ready to go. As soon as I get customers, I'm ready for business," she said. "I don't think it's going to happen overnight, [but] we're starting to move in the right direction."

'A direct impact for us immediately'

In the hours following Wednesday's announcement, tourism operators in the St John's area say they're already seeing an interest from tourists looking to return to the province.

"People are just excited," Todd Perrin, owner of Mallard Cottage Inn and Restaurant told The St. John's Morning Show on Thursday. "At the inn particularly, we booked like 15, 20 rooms in the hour immediately after.… It was a direct impact for us immediately."

The city of St. John's converted a downtown stretch of Water Street into a pedestrian mall during the summer of 2020. When it reopens this year, it will likely see an increase in the number of out-of-province visitors. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Cindy Purill, co-owner of the Georgestown Inn, had a similar experience. 

"We've had people sitting and waiting for this to happen so they can fulfil their bookings that they had carry over from last year," Purill said. "Within an hour, the phone was ringing."

While operators say the quick interest will translate some much needed financial success, some acknowledge the early months of the season will likely be a slow build into what could be a strong fall season.

"I think July and August will be kind of slow, and I'm hoping for a good fall because we have time to market that," said Courtney Howell, co-owner of Grates Cove Studios. "Ultimately what we're trying to do is get through until next year, so I think this announcement is going to help a lot of small businesses."

Reopening plan better late than never: Bonavista mayor

The planning element is key for Bonavista Mayor John Norman, who also owns tourism operations in the community. Serving on the premier's advisory council on tourism, he said he was happy to see the recommendations made by the team acknowledged by the provincial government.

But while things are looking up in the region, Norman said the province could ultimately pay the price for being the last Atlantic province to reveal its reopening plan.

Bonavista Mayor John Norman also operates businesses that rely on tourists. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

"As of this week, I was getting July and August cancellations because visitors didn't want to wait any longer," Norman said.

"We're preparing for this year to be worse than last year. It's Newfoundlanders that want to travel, a lot of them have travelled, they did their staycation last year. And what we're hearing from a lot of visitors, be it anecdotal, they want to get out of the province."

With a plan now in place, Norman says it's up to both tourism operators and the provincial government to attract tourists to the province and get the industry back on a successful path.

"We need to broadcast that from the hills and make sure that everybody across Canada knows we are open for business."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Garrett Barry and The St. John's Morning Show

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