Province pledges $25M to help tourism industry through COVID-19
Some businesses have already said they won't reopen this year
Premier Dwight Ball says $25 million in funding will help the hard-hit local tourism and hospitality industry reopen as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism sector has been decimated by the effects of COVID-19 even ahead of the traditionally busy months of July and August.
"This support will help make life a little easier during one of the toughest times that we've had to face as a province," Premier Dwight Ball said Monday morning at a news conference to announce the funds.
He said the roughly 2,700 businesses employing 20,000 people across the province play an important role throughout Newfoundland and Labrador's communities.
The $25-million Tourism and Hospitality Support Program complements existing emergency supports, Ball noted, and will "better position operators to reopen" as public health measures relax through the province's staged reopening plan. The money is coming from the $200-million COVID-19 contingency fund.
"With tourism spending of $1.4 billion annually, the industry has a significant impact," on the province, said Tourism Minister Bernard Davis, who said the program was designed to fill a gap in other funding identified by the industry.
Under the program, small- and medium-sized registered tourism operators can apply for a one-time, non-repayable capital contribution of $5,000 or $10,000 depending on the operation's gross sales. If a business grosses less than $100,000 a year, it's eligible for $5,000, and $10,000 if it grosses more than that.
To get the money businesses must demonstrate losses in March & April and forecast accommodations in May and June. Accommodations, retail, experiences, tours, etc. are eligible. Applications open Monday.—@HeatherMGillis
The minister said the money is intended to help businesses cover some of their costs as they deal with substantial losses, and more information will be posted on the department's website with applications opening June 8.
The $25 million will come from the province's $200-million contingency fund for COVID-19 relief.
Meanwhile, Davis said the Department of Tourism is working on a staycation marketing campaign.
The premier said guidelines for intraprovincial travel will be released as the province moves to Alert Level 3, which would be June 8 at the earliest.
COVID-19 hurting industry
Many players in the industry have detailed how big of a blow the pandemic has levelled, including accommodations, restaurants, and other organizations.
Cathy Duke, CEO of Destination St. John's, says the funding is desperately needed.
"The problems are so significant. The impact on the tourism industry has been catastrophic," she said.
But Duke says the industry needs more, as many businesses struggled even just to get through the winter.
"It's perhaps not enough to totally solve problems for the industry," said Duke.
Duke hopes the money will get to a broad range of companies quickly, and that audits to determine lost revenue will happen later, as with other federal government programs.
"We need a much bigger program in place either federally or provincially to work with industry, so they can put everything in place they need at this time, and also get ready for market recovery, which will come a little bit later."
She said the earlier businesses get information about reopening the better, because they need time to ramp up. She says good public health and safety guidelines will also make people feel comfortable to travel.
Some, however, have vowed to stay hopeful that they can stay afloat, and even draw in more of the staycation crowd.
"Today's announcement recognizes the significance of the tourism industry as a key economic driver for communities," said Hospitality NL chair, Steve Denty in a news release Monday night.
"Hospitality NL's consultations with the provincial government on behalf of the tourism industry have been very constructive and we acknowledge that this is a great step in the right direction to get industry operators the support they need to get back to work and safely ensure travel around the province is advanced quickly."
The province's total number of COVID-19 cases remains at 260. By region, there are 242 cases in the Eastern Health region, eight cases in the Central Health region, four cases in the Western Health region and six cases in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region.
There are still three active cases of COVID-19 in the province, as 254 have recovered from the virus. There have been three deaths due to the virus.