Nova Scotia tourism businesses fear major hit over COVID-19
'We've gone from general concern to downright nervousness,' business owner says
Some Nova Scotia businesses that rely on the busy tourism season are bracing for a potentially big loss this year because of COVID-19.
One of the owners of Jennifer's of Nova Scotia, a gift shop based in downtown Halifax that specializes in locally made products, is cutting back product orders in anticipation of a hit. Kurt Bulger is concerned cruise ships won't come to town.
"We've gone from general concern to downright nervousness," Bulger told CBC News.
As of Wednesday, March 11, there are no cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, but a "presumptive" case was announced on the same day in New Brunswick. The World Health Organization has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. More than 118,000 people in 114 countries have been infected, with 4,291 deaths.
This week, Canada's chief public health officer urged Canadians "think twice about being on cruise ships."
Each year, Halifax welcomes 350,000 cruise ship passengers and many of them take tours to Peggys Cove to see the famous lighthouse.
Mike Cassidy, president of Maritime Buses, one of the companies that take tourists to the iconic lighthouse, shares Bulger's concern.
"We are all thinking and, I could say, perhaps we're all worrying," Cassidy said.
As of Wednesday, there have been no operational changes at the Port of Halifax and no cruise cancellations.
Lane Farguson, a spokesperson for the Halifax Port Authority, said the port is taking direction from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
"It's sort of unprecedented territory because we've never seen anything like this, so for us to say, you know, sequentially, this will happen and then this will happen, we don't know the answer to that yet," he said.
Cruise ships are scheduled to begin showing up in Halifax in April, but the busiest times are September and October.
Farguson said the cruise industry is worth $172 million a year in the Halifax area. He said the economic value is broader than some might realize.
"When those cruise ships call, they like to take on things like Nova Scotia wine, Nova Scotia lobster. And then there's also other provisioning that takes place, like refuelling, like stocking up on water," he said.
In Cape Breton, the Port of Sydney Development Corporation has had no cruise ship cancellations, but it is monitoring the situation with the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association.
It has 118 calls booked for 2020, with six of those for Louisbourg, which would be a record year.
"We are anticipating there'll be some impact, we just don't know how severe it will be, so we are planning," said Marlene Usher, CEO of the Port of Sydney Development Corporation.
"The ships may come in with fewer people, I think that's a real possibility. There could also be fewer ships."
Around 80 per cent of cruise visits in Cape Breton happen in September and October.
Usher said a lot of local businesses depend on the cruise industry.
"We have a lot of retail, we have shore excursions, tour operators. People have been buying inventory to sell to these cruise passengers," she said.
Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay, said about 85 per cent of all visitors to the museum come from outside Cape Breton. She said about eight per cent come from cruise ships.
"In September and October, we're pretty much dependent on the cruise industry," Mombourquette said.
With files from Kayla Hounsell and Tom Ayers