PEI

P.E.I.'s bubble tourism slow to start, but growing

What started as a devastating spring for P.E.I.’s tourism season is growing into something, but nothing like what the industry was hoping for at the beginning of the year.

90% of P.E.I. spring tourism wiped out by pandemic

P.E.I. businesses are ready for tourists, but are tourists ready for P.E.I.? (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

What started as a devastating spring for P.E.I.'s tourism season is growing into something, but nothing like what the industry was hoping for at the beginning of the year.

"If you talked to anybody in the industry what they would have told you back then is we were all gearing up for a record-breaking year," said Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.

The official numbers for P.E.I. tourism show an industry that was barely operating at all during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Total overnight stays in April and May were down close to 90 per cent.

  • April: -88.1%.
  • May: -89.4%.

P.E.I. tourism had seen record seasons in five of the last six years, and while it is difficult to judge a tourism season on the smaller numbers of January and February, those early indicators were very positive.

Traffic on the English website was up 20 to 30 per cent, and up in the double digits on the French site. In February, business at visitor information centres was up 243 per cent.

And then, of course, it all crashed. Provincial borders were closed, restaurants were told to shut down. About the only accommodations business available was putting up arriving essential workers, while restaurants had to rely on providing takeout for locals.

Bubble business

With the opening of the Atlantic bubble July 3, leisure travel on the Island became possible for people from other provinces.

There is a great deal of potential for P.E.I. tourism in the bubble. Travellers from Atlantic Canada represented 60 per cent of the market last year. But Clemence said that potential has not yet materialized.

"When the bubble first opened it was slow, slower than we would have hoped, initially," she said.

A lot of the early travellers over Confederation Bridge from the Atlantic bubble appear to have been visiting family, and not bringing a lot of tourism business. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"I think we probably saw a lot of people coming over to see family, you know, stay with their family and friends. I don't know that people had the confidence to travel as quickly as we hoped."

It is getting better, she said, and you can see there are more people around Charlottetown, for example.

Pandemic still a roller-coaster for industry

While the industry is encouraged by that growth, Clemence said it is unlikely that the full potential of 60 per cent will be realized in any month this year.

Atlantic Canadian visitors tend to book on shorter notice, she said. They watch the weather and other factors, and announcements of new COVID-19 cases don't help.

"I think everyone is acutely aware of COVID anywhere, especially when they're considering visiting," said Clemence.

It is very difficult to predict how the rest of the tourism season will go, says TIAPEI CEO Corryn Clemence. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

"When we had those couple of cases when the bubble first opened, we did hear from operators that they had cancellations that directly correlated to those new cases, even though they had nothing to do with the bubble opening. So we know that there's a fear and a hesitation from visitors."

If that's the case, the five new cases on P.E.I. this week will probably hurt this weekend's bookings, despite P.E.I. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison's assurances that the cases were not connected to the Atlantic bubble, there was no community spread, and the people involved had been self-isolating.

The real story of this year's tourism season won't be known until numbers for the June shoulder season and the high season of July and August are available. The province said to expect June numbers some time next month, and July numbers in October.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at kevin.yarr@cbc.ca.

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