Cape Breton tourism operators want island to be staycation destination
'You just kind of have to go on good faith and persevere and go forward'
Tourism operators in Cape Breton are hoping Nova Scotians choose them for a summer staycation.
On Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang approved vacation travel within the province.
"We encourage people to actually do your vacation at home within Nova Scotia," said Strang. "Travel around the province doing that safely, but at the same time supporting the local economy and community around the province."
That's what Destination Cape Breton CEO Terry Smith was hoping to hear.
"For us, that was music to our ears," he said.
"We've been advocating for the messaging to change and we're very pleased to see that it has and that Dr. Strang and the premier are encouraging people to get out and explore."
The organization will launch a new campaign Monday with its sights set on getting Nova Scotians to check out the island for the first time, or become reacquainted with it.
Destination Cape Breton is also prepared to market to other Atlantic provinces if a so-called travel bubble is created in the region.
According to Smith, over 70 per cent of visitors to Cape Breton come from outside the Atlantic provinces and most are first-time visitors. That's caused some apprehension for businesses and tourism operators on the Cabot Trail, where the population is sparse and tourism is one of the largest industries.
Brent Partland, co-owner of the Wreck Cove General Store in Birch Plain, is worried about the change in tourism season as well. The store is usually open all year, catering to people like snowmobilers who stop by the gas bar or come inside the store for supplies.
With recreational activities restricted, the general store had to shut down for a few weeks. Now they've reopened with fewer staff and Partland is hoping for local traffic.
He also secured a liquor outlet in the store, which he hopes will draw more traffic.
Sisters Penny Steele and Deb Karn, business partners at Colouratura Art Gallery and Chocolate Shop in Indian Brook, said the unpredictability of this year's season makes planning difficult.
"We apply for funding and again, they want you to do projections, but we're like everybody else in the entire world that have absolutely no idea what's going to happen, so you just kind of have to go on good faith and persevere and go forward," said Karn.
To try to help deal with the challenge of opening during the pandemic, Steele has been organizing virtual meetings with other local businesses.
Melody Dauphney, owner of The Clucking Hen Café in North Shore, said the meetings have been helpful.
Dauphney said business owners have helped each other source material for barriers as well as supplies like hand sanitizer. They've also tried to co-ordinate opening hours and days with other businesses so that if one is closed, another is open.
"We tried to balance it out to make it work for everybody," said Dauphney.
Although it's early in the season, some tourism operators are starting to notice a change in their customer base.
"We had a lot of cancellations the last three months … and since last week bookings for June and July are picking up again and it's all local people, people from Nova Scotia, Sydney, Halifax," said Ton Megens, owner of the Dancing Moose Café and Cottages.
His camping cabins are usually booked for one or two nights but, he said, "I noticed people are booking for longer now."
The Keltic Lodge in Ingonish is also hoping locals will take advantage of rooms that would normally be booked for weddings.