PEI

P.E.I. could lose 85% of its tourism business because of COVID-19

P.E.I.’s tourism industry, worth more than $500 million to the Island’s economy last year, could shrink to less than $100 million this year.

Planned Atlantic Canada bubble provides some hope for industry

Tourism Minister Matthew MacKay says while interprovincial borders could open in July, there is no guarantee they will stay open. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

P.E.I.'s tourism industry, worth more than $500 million to the Island's economy last year, could shrink to less than $100 million this year.

Speaking on CBC Radio's The Current Thursday morning, Tourism Minister Matthew MacKay said the record $505 million from 2019 could drop as low as $70 million this year.

"COVID's been devastating, especially on the tourism side, for the province," said MacKay.

Currently, tourism from outside the province is completely shut down. Travel to the Island is allowed for essential purposes only.

On June 1, the province opened up the process for seasonal residents to apply to come to the Island this summer. The province recommends that anyone planning to travel to P.E.I. be pre-approved, or risk being turned around at the border.

If that border remains closed, that's when 85 per cent of the market evaporates.

A hopeful proposal

One bright light on the horizon for the industry is the possibility of an opening of borders within the region, which is being called an Atlantic Canada bubble.

On a conference call Wednesday evening, Atlantic premiers committed to an Atlantic Canada bubble starting in early July.

The bubble would be hugely significant for the Island's tourism industry. In 2019, almost 60 per cent of P.E.I.'s tourists came from Atlantic Canada, with the huge majority of those coming from the Maritimes.

MacKay said the health of Islanders has been and will continue to be the number one priority. He said he has been in discussions with P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison, and they are both convinced a bubble can be opened safely.

"She's very confident it can work," he said.

"I've asked lots of questions on it to this point and she's very confident that with some protocols in place we're going to be able to control it and mitigate the risk."

Continued progress in containing COVID-19 will be a precondition of the bubble, and MacKay cautioned there is no guarantee that borders would remain open.

"It's going to be tightly watched," he said.

"If it looks like there's any risk or any new cases at any given point, we can go back to where we were in shutting the bridge and our borders down."

MacKay said Islander have worked hard to control the pandemic. The last confirmed case on P.E.I. was announced on April 28. But he said it is time to start opening the economy up.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from The Current

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