Gov't aid gives P.E.I. lodgings owners 'fighting chance' for summer season

The owners of two Island lodgings say the provincial and federal government’s COVID-19 programs are helping to keep them operational for the 2020 tourism season.

COVID-19 has taken toll on earnings, jobs

Before the global pandemic, P.E.I. projected 1.5 million tourists for the 2020 season. (John Robertson/CBC)

Two Island accommodations owners are crediting the federal and provincial governments' COVID-19 programs with keeping them running for the 2020 tourism season.

Sandi Lowther of Fairways Cottages in Cavendish and Robbie Shaw of Shaw's Hotel and Cottages in Brackley Beach told CBC's Island Morning host Mitch Cormier that though the Atlantic bubble has been helpful, visitors from the rest of the region cannot make up for their lost income.

"We have, you know, 150,000 [residents] in P.E.I. and about a little over a million people in the Maritimes," said Shaw. "How does that replace 1.5 million visitors? We won't reach that, but it's a step in the right direction."

Shaw's is operating with about 25 per cent of its regular staff. 

"Our staffing levels would have been on par for a number of people that we would have had arriving," said Shaw. "We had a restaurant operation here too that we cut back quite dramatically."

'Input costs are increasing dramatically'

At the end of June, Lowther and her team had made the difficult decision to close for the season if an announcement to loosen P.E.I.'s provincial border restrictions were not made soon. Then, on June 24, the Atlantic bubble was announced.

"It was a little bit overwhelming. I contacted our staff a couple of hours later and the phone was non-stop," she said. 

"Our manager had to hire an assistant to work the phones ... they were working from eight in the morning till nine o'clock at night just dealing with the demand from Atlantic Canada families wanting to come to Cavendish."

We still have a long road to go down to get back to where we were in the past.— Robbie Shaw, Shaw's Hotel and Cottages

Lowther said that even with the Atlantic bubble, it's been a very different operating season. About 85 per cent of their customers are those who come back year after year.

"We're seeing a trend. We normally would be at 100-per-cent capacity with week-long, two-week vacationers," she said.  

Instead, Lowther said they're receiving two- or three-night reservations, from those who say they just need to get away for a couple of days.

"Our input costs are increasing dramatically with short-term stays and so we did actually hire a new employee and call back all of our other employees to meet the new demands of the service protocol for COVID-19, on top of all of this short-term bookings," said Lowther.

"We would not be able to sustain this operation even with an Atlantic bubble without the support of our provincial and federal government programs. The numbers just don't work … we're thrilled it's giving us a fighting chance."

Optimistic for Canadian bubble

Shaw calls the government programs "a godsend."

"We're hoping that there might be some pent-up demand that would get a follow-up into late August and in September," he said. 

"Oening to the rest of Canada for the September market — that would make a world of difference to, I think, a lot of operators."

Shaw's Hotel and Cottages is currently operating with about 25 per cent of its regular summer staff. (Submitted by Robbie Shaw)

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King has said the province will not consider broadening the bubble beyond Atlantic Canada until at least August.

In the meantime, Shaw is optimistic things may pick up.

"It's really this weekend that we started to see any significant amount of people come in from Atlantic Canada," he said.

"We still have a long road to go down, to get back to where we were in the past."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


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