Tourism minister challenged to expand who's eligible for $3 million grant program
P.E.I.'s tourism minister says $1 million already in the hands of operators
Charlottetown-Belvedere MLA Hannah Bell wants the tourism minister to expand the eligibility for the $3 million tourism activation grant program.
The program was announced in the provincial budget in March, and provides tourism businesses with a non-repayable grant toward expenses to open for the 2021 season.
The grants range from $2,500 to $50,000, and are being administered through Tourism PEI and community business development corporations in three zones across the province.
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Tourism minister Matthew MacKay said the program has already been very popular.
"As of Friday, we had 257 applications in, 95 were approved and $1.1 million has gone out," MacKay said.
Bell asked the minister whether there was a cap on the size of business that can apply, to ensure that the fund was being directed to small businesses, who don't qualify for financing options available to larger businesses.
"When we designed this program, we had a $3 million pot of money, and we wanted to make sure it went into the hands of the tourism operators that were hurt the most," MacKay said.
"We put a criteria on it that all operators had to be down 30 per cent and that's the criteria we're going with to date."
Bell said she has been hearing from accommodation businesses who were told they didn't qualify because they only have one property, some of which have been in business for years.
"What I see are rules that look like they may be designed to exclude Airbnbs, without saying that you're excluding Airbnbs," Bell said.
"Let me be clear, I am not in favour of Airbnbs receiving government assistance, as they have alternative options to generate revenue, like renting their properties as long-term rentals," Bell said.
"But that doesn't mean that existing traditional cottage accommodations should be excluded from getting financial assistance, especially as they are often located in rural locations."
MacKay said that there are 1,900 rental properties right now on Prince Edward Island, and not enough money to help them all.
"When you're working with $3 million, and you have 1,900 rental properties, it was going to cost the province in the proximity of $30 million," MacKay said.
"All of these programs we've rolled out all along, I always said we would roll them out to the best of our ability. We don't have $30 million."
MacKay said it was also a deliberate decision to exclude short-term rentals from the program.
"A lot of these Airbnb and short-term rentals, they have secondary income so they are people with full-time jobs, that do have jobs to go to right now, and that's why that was excluded as well," MacKay said.
"The long and the short of it: we got a $3 million budget and we wanted to make sure it went into the pockets of the tourism operators that were most affected, as well as the ones that are employing people," MacKay said.
"We did not want to see 2,000 tourism operators lay off any more employees this summer. We wanted to make sure they kept working."
Bell asked the minister if the program could be expanded, because of the strong uptake.
MacKay said his department would be monitoring the program, and would adjust if needed.
"If the program is underutilized, we're certainly going to extend it," MacKay said.
"I'm not saying we won't be able to go back to the pot when the time comes, but we want to make sure that we've got the ability to do that," MacKay said.
"At the end of the day, we've got to be responsible as a government, and make sure our funds last as long as this pandemic lasts."