Nova Scotia

Hospitality industry asks Nova Scotians to explore their home province this year

Tourism Nova Scotia is putting out a "call to arms" — asking Nova Scotians to plan a getaway in their home province to help support the industry amid COVID-19 restrictions.

'The Nova Scotia business is giving us hope that it won't be a total disaster'

The general manager of Keltic Lodge says he hopes Nova Scotians take advantage of the weekends they have available this summer, which are normally booked full because of weddings. (Keltic Lodge)

As operators of inns, hotels and other accommodations are looking at their dwindling reservation books, Tourism Nova Scotia is putting out a "call to arms" — asking Nova Scotians to plan a getaway in their home province.

From larger resorts to smaller B&Bs, many in the field say they're already struggling.

"Bookings are drying up. I don't have anybody booked in June now," said Cathie Watson, owner of By The Bay Bed and Breakfast in Glen Margaret, N.S., just 12 km from Peggys Cove.

"I still have a few reservations in July that haven't cancelled yet, but they'll have to cancel because they're from Europe or Ontario and Quebec."

Last month, Tourism Nova Scotia said the industry was bracing itself for a loss of at least $1 billion in 2020.

"This year our goal is very simple: to drive as much visitation as we can in 2020 to our suffering operators," said Michele Saran, CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia.

"With Nova Scotians unable to travel outside the province this summer, we've got a great opportunity to encourage spending right here at home."

Cathie Watson, right, said she also relies on her bed and breakfast for much of her social interaction. (Submitted by Cathie Watson)

Watson said she has a big mortgage and needs the revenue from her business.

"On top of that, I depend on the B&B guests and my helpers for my social connections. So I'm very worried," she said.

Watson said normally her local guests are coming to stay for weddings at a nearby resort, but those celebrations have all been cancelled this summer.

Cancellations leave weekends open

Kevin Hurd, general manager of Keltic Lodge and Highland Links Golf Resort in Cape Breton, said they've lost a lot of business from postponed weddings and cancelled bus tours.

"Our bookings are significantly down, at least for June and July as some people wait to see if restrictions are lifted," he said.

Hurd said they've had to adjust their business model week by week — sometimes daily — as things changed. They've had to keep some buildings and restaurants closed at the lodge and limit the number of staff hired.

But Hurd said he's hopeful people will want to vacation in their home province.

"We're offering Nova Scotians a special rate that we normally don't have in the month of July," he said.

"Nova Scotians sometimes have a problem or experience challenges trying to come up to play golf on the weekends because the hotel is at capacity with weddings and whatnot. So we've got weekends available."

Incentives to stay longer

Saran said many hotels in the province are offering incentives to get people to stay longer, too.

Tourism Nova Scotia's 2019 numbers show that 21 per cent of of tourism revenues come from spending on accommodations. The rest goes to floating the local economy by spending on restaurants, transportation, shopping, eating and entertainment.

"When you go on vacation, you eat out at restaurants and you try and see stuff, and you generate a lot of economic activity, much more than a resident would do," said Andrew Murphy, who owns several AirBNB properties in Halifax.

Michele Saran says their Explore Nova Scotia campaign is a call to arms to get Nova Scotians rediscovering things in their own backyard. (Robert Short/CBC)

"There's hundreds of millions of dollars that aren't going to come.…So there will be a lot, a lot of people hit."

Murphy said many of his properties have now been converted into apartments. He still has a few listings up on AirBNB, but said he doesn't have high expectations for this summer.

"These are dark times. Hopefully, we can get our tourism back."

'The Nova Scotia business is giving us hope'

But some are already seeing the positive effects of Nova Scotians travelling in their home province.

"Part of the marketing is inviting guests to come back who are Nova Scotian," said Paul Weinberg, co-owner of Cabot Shores, a wilderness resort and retreat in Cape Breton.

"There's a real impetus for Nova Scotians to staycation and they're responding really well."

Weinberg said the distance between their yurts, domes and cottages has made it pretty easy for physical distancing. He said they've also had people do their two-week quarantine there.

"The Nova Scotia business is giving us hope that it won't be a total disaster. But at the same time, we have to be pretty lean and we're all doing a little bit more work. It takes a lot more work during COVID-19 to maintain safety."

Andrew Murphy says he's seeing a "fair amount of inactivity" with his AirBNB properties this summer. (CBC)

In 2017, 1.1 million visitors to Nova Scotia were from Atlantic Canada — so many are hopeful for a Maritime bubble this summer.

Saran said Maritimers generally stay for shorter periods and often in Halifax. But she said they're ready to "push go" on a campaign to get them to explore more of the province as soon as restrictions are lifted.

In the meantime, she said they will keep marketing to Nova Scotians and have even created an online travel guide.

Cabot Shores is a wilderness resort in Cape Breton that offers unique lodgings such as yurts and domes. (Cabot Shores)

Saran also said the benefit of Maritime tourists is that they often come throughout the year — and a Maritime bubble would mean those markets could help generate revenue for the rest of 2020.

But Watson said she's not just worried about this year. There's still a big question mark about what tourism will look like for the next few years.

"As the travel restrictions are lifted, it's people's perception of safety. Will people be comfortable travelling?" Watson said.

"I think a lot of B&B owners are closing completely for the summer and some are closing completely. Because we're vulnerable and it's just too difficult."