PEI

COVID-19 'catastrophic' for P.E.I. hotel operators says industry group

More than 1.6 million visitors generated $505 million in tourism revenues in 2019, but the industry is bracing for a tough year in 2020. 

'How do businesses survive this downtime when you just have no revenue and you are closed?'

Craig Jones, president of the Hotel Association of Prince Edward Island, says the impact of COVID-19 has been catastrophic for hotel owners. (Submitted by Craig Jones )

"Catastrophic" is how Craig Jones, president of the Hotel Association of Prince Edward Island, describes the effect COVID-19 is having on the province's hotel owners.

"In P.E.I. over the last two weeks a lot of operators in Charlottetown and Summerside and in the outlying areas made that really tough decision to close their doors," he said.

"It's catastrophic to the industry." 

Jones, who manages the Rodd Crowbush Resort, said he'd be getting the resort ready for the busy summer months now if it wasn't for the coronavirus. He said a planned job fair to hire summer staff has been put on hold. 

Rodd Crowbush employs about 100 people during the summer months. 

A note on the door of the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel in downtown Charlottetown says the hotel closed March 17 and 'will remain closed until further notice ... at this time a reopen date is hard to predict.' (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The Delta Hotel in Charlotteown closed Friday, putting 120 to 150 staffers out of work. In a statement emailed to CBC News, general manager James Tingley said he looks forward to re-opening as soon as possible, when "business conditions improve." 

The Charlottetown Hotel in downtown Charlottetown closed March 17, and a note on its door from management says a reopen date is "hard to predict." 

Rodd Crowbush is scheduled to open the Victoria Day weekend in May and usually remains open until Thanksgiving in October. They still plan to open in May but that will depend on what is happening with COVID-19 and what travel restrictions are in place at the time, said Jones.

Jones said he worked in Ontario during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and that it had a huge impact on the hotel industry there — but it was nothing compared to COVID-19.

"It was really rough … but they never closed."

'How do businesses survive?'

More than 1.6 million visitors to P.E.I. generated $505 million in tourism revenues in 2019, but the industry is bracing for a tough year in 2020. 

The Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown closed Friday, March 27, and general manager James Tingley says, 'We look forward to reopening the hotel as soon as possible.' The hotel employs 120-150 people. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Kevin Murphy, president and CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group, said he's had to layoff 700 staff across the region, 300 in P.E.I. While those are mostly restaurant workers, that number includes 50 people at the company's two Charlottetown hotels which are now closed. 

Murphy Hospitality Group owns the Great George Inn and Hotel on Pownal in Charlottetown.

Murphy said employees are a company's "lifeline" so they are working to ensure staff can tap into government financial aid. 

"There is nothing in my little world that would compare to this," said Murphy.  

"This will pass, but what will it be like when we finish? And how do businesses survive this downtime when you just have no revenue and you are closed?"  

'Impacted pretty hard in March'

Geoffrey Irving, president of Mill River Resort, said COVID-19 has also forced the shutdown of the resort and they've laid off all 80 employees.

Geoffrey Irving, president of Mill River Resort, says the pandemic has forced the resort to shut down. (John Robertson/CBC)

"We were impacted pretty hard in March," said Irving. "We lost, for the most part, all of our traffic during the P.E.I. and Nova Scotia March breaks as well as a couple of busy weekends for provincial hockey tournaments so that was a tough one."   

Smaller operators like Airbnbs are also feeling the pain.

Terrie Williams with the Charlottetown Short-term Rental Association said they have been dealing with cancellation after cancellation for April and May. 

What is even more worrisome, she said, is that new reservations which are usually rolling in now for the summer season have all but dried up. 

"It's looking to be a grim summer, I think, for most of us," said Williams.

'People will come back'

A series of programs is being rolled out by the federal and provincial governments to help hotel owners, many of whom are small business owners, as well as the employees who have lost their jobs. 

Terrie Williams, who's with the Charlottetown Short-term Rental Association, says members have been dealing with cancellation after cancellation for April and May. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Jones said he's fearful the situation may extend into P.E.I.'s peak tourism season, but even if it doesn't he wonders if people will feel comfortable travelling.

"How confident is the public to travel?" he said.

But he is confident that brighter days are ahead.

"Prince Edward Island, we're very lucky that we live in such a great province where tourism is such a huge part of our economy. It's such a great place to visit. People will come back because it is a safe and great place to visit."

More from CBC P.E.I. 

About the Author

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca

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