P.E.I. accommodations prepare for another uncertain COVID-19 summer
'There's a lot of fear in the industry right now'
Some cottages, campgrounds and seasonal hotels on Prince Edward Island say their goal is just to survive another season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The summer of 2020 was dismal for most tourism-based businesses on P.E.I., with some reporting an 80 per cent drop in business. The opening of the so-called Atlantic bubble, allowing tourists from within the other three Atlantic provinces, was the industry's only saving grace.
"This year, there's a lot of uncertainty for many of our operators," said Corryn Clemence, chief executive officer with the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island (TIAPEI).
"I think there's a lot of fear in the industry right now."
She said many seasonal tourism operators like inns and bed and breakfasts are delaying opening, with an Atlantic bubble uncertain and COVID-19 wage subsidies from the federal government scheduled to start declining in July.
"It's important to remember that those seasonal operators that are operating the six months, that's what maintains them for the full year, so they need that revenue," Clemence said.
TIAPEI held a job fair a few weeks ago that saw plenty of interest in working in the industry, she noted.
'Light at the end of the tunnel'
Shaw's Hotel and Cottages in Brackley Beach would normally be welcoming its first visitors of the season Victoria Day weekend. Instead, a skeleton crew is getting just a couple of cottages ready. Shaw's has been busy once again cancelling reservations from long-time annual guests.
Owner Rob Shaw says the landmark business is looking at opening in mid-June at the earliest.
"We want to be ready in hope that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere towards the end of June," Shaw said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that we can get open and that the Atlantic bubble will be open somewhere in that timeframe."
Shaw said his business strategy again this year is to just hang on and survive. He estimates he'll operate at less than half capacity, with half the staff, of a normal year.
"If we can get [the Atlantic bubble open for] July, August and September, it should pan into a summer that would be worthwhile to be open," Shaw said.
He said last year, he opened only 27 of his property's 40 accommodation units. He said this year, he is only opening a few at a time and seeing how it goes.
Pushing for vaccine passports
The industry is calling for talks at the national level to bring in some sort of vaccination passport for Canadians.
TIAPEI says a vaccine passport could open the doors for more people from outside the region to come here.
"We would like some proof-of-vaccination program to roll out. I think it's important that it has to be nationally adopted and it can't be regional or provincial. It has to be something that's universal," Clemence said. TIAPEI is talking to government, and to its national counterpart, about lobbying Ottawa for vaccine passports.
"People want to travel, we know that. We know there will be pent-up demand, so we want to be ready and welcoming when visitors can travel again," she said.
Shaw said he believes the federal and provincial governments should push to have a vaccine passport in place as soon as possible.
"A number of other countries are already looking at this and I think it's very important we get some kind of understanding both federally and provincially on how we're going to treat potential visitors who have been vaccinated," Shaw said.
The federal health minister has said the government embraces the concept of vaccine passports, and Ottawa is working on it.
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With files from Brian Higgins