Nfld. & Labrador

July looking bleak for tourism in Gros Morne, despite looming reopening date

N.L. is expected to finally open to Canadians this Thursday, but one major tourist-driven area is drowning in vacancies this summer.

Short-term rental owners are short on July bookings, even as N.L. opens to Canada this week

Peter Thurlow, who owns several short-term rental properties on the beach in Norris Point, says this is the slowest June he's ever seen. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

After 15 months of turning away visitors, Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to finally open to Canadians this Thursday — but one major tourist-driven area is still drowning in vacancies.

Short-term rental owners in parts of Gros Morne National Park say this spring is the slowest in recent memory.

Peter Thurlow and his wife Meigan Aspin own several high end rental properties on the beach in Norris Point. One house, dubbed the Little Wild, generates year-round business and social media attention. The pair rent it for, on average, $723 for a two-night stay.

This is the view inside Thurlow's rental property in Norris Point. He hopes out-of-province bookings start to trickle in later in July. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"We do have a good following, and we have done well over the years, but this June has been our slowest June," said Thurlow.

While their books are full later in the summer, most are from people who already live here. Thurlow worries that as travel restrictions ease, locals will cancel and take their vacations elsewhere. 

He hopes out-of-province guests will trickle in later this summer.

"I think people are waiting for some definitive answers. They are just hesitating to make their plans right now," he said. "Hopefully in the next week or two we start to see things pick up."

High end or budget?

It's quiet in Norris Point and Rocky Harbour these days.

Parking lots are devoid of the vans and RVs they'd usually host. Sidewalks and attractions see minimal foot traffic. Tourist operators say it's even emptier than last year, when the pandemic shut everything down.

Colin Shears owns an adventure company and hostel in Rocky Harbour. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"It's been rough. It's definitely been rough," said Colin Shears, who owns Out East Adventures.

Shears rents hostel beds for $40 a night. He used the down time in business to install tent pads on the business property for $20 a night, but he's not sure the July 1 opening date will save the 2021 tourism season.

"I think things will open up, probably. We also have tried to open in the past, in April, and then Nova Scotia got a bunch of cases and everything shut down again," he said. "I'm cautious that the same thing may happen again."

On July 1, the province is expected to open to non-essential travel from within Canada. Fully vaccinated Canadian travellers can visit Newfoundland and Labrador without testing for COVID-19 or isolating. People with one dose have to present a negative test result, or isolate for 14 days.

August bookings

Shears and Thurlow agree that many travellers are likely waiting until late July and even late August before booking a trip to Gros Morne.

Rocky Harbour is home to multitudes of short-term rentals, including these cabins. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Until then, many of the hundreds of hotels, motels, cabins, and campgrounds in Norris Point and Rocky Harbour may remain vacant. 

In a normal year, the population of Rocky Harbour — 947, to be precise — triples in size. The town's mayor, Tony Major, says that's not happening now, either.

He's cautiously optimistic about reopening this summer, given the number of seniors in the area concerned about the virus.

"We are depending on our visitors to do their part. If everybody does their part then we should have a safe and prosperous summer," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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