Nfld. & Labrador

Hospitality NL welcomes tourist ban while creating plans to salvage $1.1B industry

The chair of Hospitality NL says he was advocating for the provincial government to close borders to tourists after hearing concerns from communities.

New rule prohibits people from entering province without permission from public health officials

An iceberg between Deadman's Bay and Musgrave Harbour in mid-April. Iceberg season is a big time for tourism in small communities along the province's east coast. (Submitted by Sheila Howell)

The chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador says he advocated for the provincial government to close borders to tourists after hearing concerns from communities.

Steve Denty said he heard the same complaints about tourists visiting rural areas as Bonavista Mayor John Norman raised in the media earlier this week.

"Of course we want people to come to our province, but we want it done in a safe and responsible manner following the actions that are put in place by health professionals, and when the time is right, we'll welcome those people with open arms," Denty told The St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

Norman said he met people in his community from Quebec and Nova Scotia, and also spotted American licence plates around town.

April and May are typically key months for communities along so-called Iceberg Alley. Tourists come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the massive bergs floating toward Newfoundland and Labrador's eastern coastline.

This year, it's just one chunk of the $1.1-billion tourism industry that will disappear.

Steve Denty is the chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador. (Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador/Youtube)

HNL represents all aspects of the industry, from airlines and tour operators to hotels and restaurants.

Denty said the message is clear — weather the storm and get through it without major setbacks.

He also thought the restrictions put in place before Wednesday's addition of a tourism ban should have dissuaded people from visiting.

"I'd like to think it was clear," he said. "Obviously there were some people who were outside of those guidelines."

Effective Monday, only people with exemptions signed off by the chief medical officer of health will be allowed to enter the province. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said she will consider allowing entry to others on a case-by-case basis.

Anyone arriving in the province has to isolate for 14 days, as was the rule before Wednesday. Evidently, some people were not following the orders.

Tourism Minister Bernard Davis says enforcement should fix the problem education couldn't. (CBC)

Tourism Minister Bernard Davis said the message is now simple.

"At this point, we don't want you coming to the province until this public health order is lifted," Davis said.

Davis said the most important measure to prevent people from coming is the outright ban to stop them from entering the province. Where education failed, enforcement should fix the problem.

As for the American licence plates being spotted, Davis said he couldn't say for sure whether there are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who drove home from the United States, or tourists who somehow got across the border.

The province's police forces have been following up on complaints filed through an online reporting mechanism. As of Tuesday, the RCMP said it had received more than 1,100 complaints of public health non-compliance.

Stay-at-home tourism will be important

Denty, meanwhile, hopes people abide by the rules now so the tourism industry can get started as soon as possible and not suffer any setbacks due to further outbreaks.

He said a short-term plan will include promoting tourism inside the province before anything else.

Icebergs, like this one near Black Tickle Island last year, are powerful tourist attractions for the province. Many tour operators could lose out on a full season of income this year due to COVID-19. (Submitted by David Boyd)

"Most operators I speak with welcome the idea to host people from their communities and from around the province, to maybe encourage them to visit areas they haven't before," Denty said. 

"But we haven't given up on the idea that if our province, and the country, and the world keep hitting these checkmarks, then there may be an opportunity later in the season for out-of-province people to explore Newfoundland and Labrador. But again, only if it's safe and it makes sense for communities."

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