COVID-19's effect on P.E.I. tourism in one word: 'devastation'

Tourism numbers released by the P.E.I. government through to July show “devastation,” says the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.

‘Certainly a difficult pill to swallow when you see them all’

Confederation Bridge opened to tourists July 3, but the tourists did not come as hoped. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Tourism numbers released by the P.E.I. government through to July show "devastation," says the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. 

And the numbers also show very little tourism benefit to the opening of the Atlantic bubble on July 3, following near total border closures in the COVID-19 pandemic. Total overnight stays in accommodations, including fixed roof and campgrounds, were down 66.4 per cent in June, and 64.1 per cent in July.

July arrivals traffic was down by staggering numbers across the board.

  • Confederation Bridge: -60.1%
  • Ferry: -65.6%
  • Airport: -94.1%
  • Motorcoach: -99.9%

"It's devastation, really, for our industry. I don't know that we didn't sense that these numbers would be like they are, but certainly a difficult pill to swallow when you see them all jointly put together," said Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.

"We really didn't see the pickup in the first few weeks of the bubble opening. I have to believe there was a lot of apprehension."

The numbers are particularly disappointing because last year Atlantic visitors made up 60 per cent of the tourism market. Despite the Island being open in July, far fewer Atlantic visitors came.

Clemence said it seems that people from Atlantic Canada who did come to visit were mostly visiting family, staying with them or in campgrounds, and not participating in tourism activities.

Fixed roof accommodations, hotels and inns, were particularly hard hit. Total room nights sold were down 78.8 per cent in July.

The numbers also give an indication of how many hotels, inns and B&Bs simply chose not to open. The number of operations open was down 40.1 per cent, leading to 28.9 per cent fewer room nights available for rent.

Campground numbers were down just 17.6 per cent in July.

Even a much-hoped-for boost from staycationing Islanders does not appear to have materialized. Total overnight stays from Islanders were down 9.7 per cent in June and 6.1 per cent in July.

But, despite all of this, Clemence said she can still see a silver lining. 

"I think when you look at the web visits to our tourism websites, relatively speaking, when no one could travel, they weren't down a whole lot," she said. 

"We've done a really good job of containing the virus. And we certainly would commend our chief public health officer and her team for that. I think … we've always been viewed as a safe destination. I think this will strengthen that."

And that is one of her takeaways from these numbers. 

"I think on the flip side, it also shows what a beautiful destination and place that we do live in. And it shows that people love to come here and love to visit here in normal circumstances," she said. 

Long-term consequences

Clemence thinks comfort with travel began to grow in August, but expects the numbers will only be a little better.

The lack of business in the summer is likely to have a long-term impact on the industry, not just for visitors, but for Islanders who enjoy going out for dinner in the winter, she said.

"A lot of these operators, a lot of which operate year-round, are now faced with that harsh reality that they didn't generate the revenues in the summer months that they would normally have," said Clemence.

That summer boost can carry businesses through the off-season, Clemence said. Without that revenue, there will be difficult days ahead for Island restaurants and hotels.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at


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