Island businesses excited over tentative Atlantic bubble reopening

P.E.I. businesses are celebrating word that the Atlantic bubble will reopen April 19, contingent upon regional cases of COVID-19 remaining low.

'Everybody's got a little more jump in their step for a hopeful 2021'

Non-essential travel between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island has been restricted since the end of November due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

The Atlantic bubble will reopen April 19, premiers in Atlantic Canada announced Thursday in a joint news release, contingent on cases of COVID-19 in the region remaining low.

Non-essential travel between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island has been restricted since the end of November due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The reopening will allow residents of the Atlantic provinces to travel within the region, and without the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said about 36,000 Island adults will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 19. That's about a third of the number needed for herd immunity, he said. 

"It is our hope that with the percentage of the population being vaccinated ... once we open the bubble we won't have to go backwards," King said in an interview with CBC News: Compass Thursday. 

'A year of transition'

The date is contingent on potential new outbreaks of COVID-19, but King said with more Atlantic Canadians being vaccinated every week serious outbreaks will become less likely. 

Premier King on the reopening of the Atlantic bubble

2 years ago
Duration 6:25
'From P.E.I.'s perspective, we'll have about 36,000 Islanders vaccinated by that date, which is a good number,' Premier Dennis King says about the Atlantic bubble opening by April 19.

Public health directives in each province must continue to be followed, the release said, including wearing a mask in public spaces, not travelling if experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 and practising physical distancing.

What about travel outside the Atlantic bubble? 

"I do think this summer we will see more Canadian travellers providing it is safe to do so," King said, without pinning down a date when that might happen. "It's the unknown nature of the variants, of how it has been evolving, the virus."

"It's a year of transition for all of us, in particular the tourism sector," he said. 

'Pent-up demand'

Tourism operators on P.E.I. said the announcement is a needed ray of hope. 

'We're just not ready as a province or as a region to just say on such-and-such a date we're throwing the borders open,' to the rest of Canada, says P.E.I. Premier Dennis King. (CBC)

David Groom chairs the board of directors at Tourism P.E.I. and owns the Quality Inn and Brothers 2 restaurant in Summerside, and is looking forward to the bubble opening.

"There's a lot of pent-up demand. We're not going to see the levels we did in 2019, but it's going to start to come back," Groom said. Tourism hit record levels in 2019.

"Last year was devastating for our business," said Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, which owns Sandspit and Shining Waters Family Fun Park. 

He said he expects there will once again be capacity restrictions at attractions like his, but believes people will come because they want something to do, and because his attractions are outdoors. 

Jelley is asking government to extend support programs for businesses beyond June, at least through August. He said it will be challenging for businesses like his to hang on financially until summer of 2022 when they anticipate a more normal tourism year. 

"The businesses have borne the brunt of the burden of the pandemic," Jelley said. 

'Jump in their step'

"We're excited, and I think everybody's got a little more jump in their step for a hopeful 2021," said Kevin Murphy, who owns several hotels and restaurants. 

'We know it's going to be difficult, we're going to be down no matter what scenario we look at for the summer,' says Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, which owns Shining Waters Family Fun Park. (Shining Waters Family Fun Park)

He notes travel from the other Maritime provinces usually makes up about 65 per cent of his business — the rest is the rest of Canada and the U.S., as well as motorcoaches, conventions and cruise ship visitors, which have been cancelled.

"Right out of the gate, we're fighting an uphill battle, when certain segments of our market are not going to be there in 2021," he said. 

"All we can do is put our best foot forward," and hope to grow that captive Maritime market, Murphy said.

Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., said it will be good to see borders open up before the tourism season really begins.

"To get people used to the idea of travelling, to have our industry be able to show that we can do this safely and operate within the guidelines set out, I think it's really key," she said.

Tourism P.E.I.'s director of marketing Brenda Gallant said government is hoping P.E.I. will be a huge draw for the other three provinces.

"Rather than choose destinations that they might have travelled to before they may switch and decide to try one of the Atlantic provinces, stay closer to home," Gallant said. 

P.E.I. has had 144 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with no deaths or hospitalizations. There are four active cases.

'We want that buzz back in our city,' says Kevin Murphy, CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Laura Meader, Wayne Thibodeau, Steve Bruce and Jessica Doria-Brown


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