With Atlantic bubble delayed, P.E.I. tourism industry urges pairing with N.S.

A delay in the opening of the Atlantic bubble was announced Tuesday, and the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. wants to know what the plan will be if it has to be delayed further.

At a minimum, the association representing tourism operators wants P.E.I. to bubble with Nova Scotia alone

Corryn Clemence, the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., says people are keen to travel and the industry needs to know what the government's back-up plans are in the event of a further delay in the Atlantic bubble. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

A two-week delay in the opening of the Atlantic bubble was announced Tuesday, and the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. wants to know the province's plan should it have to be delayed further.

"We were really hoping to see a little boost right out of the gate," executive director Corryn Clemence told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier on Wednesday, after the proposed date was switched late Tuesday from April 19 to at least May 3.

"We've heard a lot of optimism throughout the industry, that people are getting that cabin fever and really looking forward to taking that trip across over to the mainland or vice versa."

The delay followed a major rise in COVID-19 case counts in New Brunswick, many of them involving variants of concern. The four Atlantic premiers had planned to drop the need for people to self-isolate for two weeks while travelling within Atlantic Canada, as of this coming Monday. 

TIAPEI's Clemence said the delay is disappointing.

Clemence said she understands that conditions have changed, and while it can be difficult to set targets, it is a necessary exercise in order to enable the industry to plan.

And now she wants to know what the next plan is.

"We're really looking for, I guess, Plan B, C and D moving forward, saying, 'If this can't happen, what are our alternatives?' Because we need to get those border restrictions lifted in some capacity," she said.

With the ferries starting up again May 1, a bubble with Nova Scotia alone becomes more practical. (Ed Middleton/CBC News)

If a full bubble is not possible by May 3, Clemence wants to see the Island opened up to Nova Scotians alone.

"The case counts in Nova Scotia have been fairly well contained, so I think there's a really good opportunity."

King leery of two-way plan with N.S.

On Tuesday, Premier Dennis King said his first preference is for a full Atlantic bubble, partly because it would be easier to administer.

Currently, the only access to and from P.E.I. is by Confederation Bridge, via New Brunswick. Ensuring Nova Scotians are travelling through New Brunswick without stopping on their way to P.E.I. would be difficult, King said.

Clemence acknowledges that a two-way partial bubble may not be practical when it comes to the need for bridge travel, but seasonal ferry service direct from Wood Islands, P.E.I. to Caribou, N.S. starts on May 1, and that makes the idea much more doable.

"We're really hoping that that's a conversation we can continue to push," she said.

Chamber also backs partial bubble

In a news release Wednesday morning, the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce also came out in support of a partial Atlantic bubble.

"We would encourage the governments of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador to consider a phased approach to re-opening," said CEO Penny Walsh-McGuire.

"This could include solutions to allow for safe travel between the three provinces until such time that the situation in New Brunswick changes."

As of Wednesday morning, New Brunswick's COVID-19 site showed the province with 132 active cases of COVID-19, including four new ones. Eighteen people were being treated in hospital, 13 of them in an intensive care unit. There have been 33 COVID-related deaths in the past year. 

By contrast, Prince Edward Island has only four active cases, and has never had a hospitalization or death due to COVID-19.

Nova Scotia's COVID-19 website was showing 45 active cases early Wednesday, and Newfoundland and Labrador had 11 listed. 

Opening up to Canada

Looking further ahead, Clemence said the industry needs to know what conditions the province is looking for in order to open to the rest of Canada as the COVID-19 vaccination rate continues to rise from its current level of 20.4 per cent of eligible adults vaccinated with at least one shot.

"We want to start talking about that reopening strategy for the rest of Canada. We're not ready to open today, but what will that look like, and what are those benchmarks?" she said.

Her association has been asking government this question, she said, but does not yet have a clear answer.

The Atlantic market is important. In 2019, about 60 per cent of visitors to P.E.I. were from within Atlantic Canada.

However, some tourism operators rely almost exclusively on visitors from outside the region. Those businesses are unlikely to survive another year without help, Clemence said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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