PEI

'Not a lot of hope' for coming P.E.I. tourism season, say operators

The cancellations keep coming for tourism operators on P.E.I. The big question is: will there be a tourism season at all?

'It does look grim for a lot of us'

The Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond was beginning to hit its stride after opening in 2017. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The cancellations keep coming for tourism operators on P.E.I., as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down non-essential travel and businesses.

The big question is: will there be a tourism season at all? And if there is, what will it look like? 

Three tourism operators — from Tignish, Georgetown and Cavendish — spoke with Island Morning about the effect COVID-19 is having on their operations.

"Uncertainty, concern, hope are the three main emotions we're hearing from our guests," said Sandi Lowther, who owns Fairways Cottages in Cavendish. 

Fairways had already waived its 30-day cancellation policy, and said it has offered thousands of dollars in refunds, although not everyone has cancelled. 

She said most of her guests are repeat customers, and she's heard from them with "heart-wrenching comments" about how they are looking forward to coming to P.E.I., including a nurse who said thinking about her annual stay on P.E.I. was lifting her spirits. 

"People want hope. I want hope!" Lowther said. 

The vast majority of the guests at Fairways Cottages in Cavendish are repeat customers, says owner Sandi Lowther. (Audrey-Anne)

Lowther said their staff of 10 is very close-knit and she has been in touch with them about what government relief programs they may be able to access. She has also been corresponding with suppliers with whom Fairways has contracts for things like internet service, furniture and play equipment — and they've willingly frozen payments. 

"The business-to-business understanding and compassion for one another has been pretty touching," she said. 

'Everything stopped'

Perry Gotell is the owner-operator of Tranquility Cove Adventures based in Georgetown, which offers experiential tourism activities.

Gotell says his bookings have come to a complete halt.

'It does look grim for a lot of us,' says Perry Gotell with Tranquility Cove Adventures in Georgetown. He's a former fisherman who has been in the tourism business for 13 years. (Tranquility Cove Adventures/Facebook)

"As of the middle of February, they really started slowing down and I didn't catch on, honestly — then the COVID pandemic was upon us and it just stopped, everything stopped," he said. His winter gig giving lectures throughout the Maritimes also dried up, he said.

He thinks P.E.I. will have "some kind of a season" later in the summer, perhaps August or September. 

He said his business will be marketing clean, safe, private activities.

"If the Island does get opened up, we're going to be offering private charters at a discounted rate where it's just going to be the family on the boat, it's not going to be other people," he said. "We're really hoping that that's going to be our hook this year." 

Gotell has two full-time and two part-time staffers and few debts. 

"We will be able to tough it out, but it's not going to be easy. But we will make it."

'A lot of uncertainty'

Anne Arsenault is general manager and CEO of Tignish Initiatives, which runs the North Cape Wind Energy Interpretive Centre and the Stompin' Tom Centre. It employs about 60 people every summer.

The group that runs the North Cape Wind Energy Interpretive Centre says it had already spent money planning and marketing the attraction and others. (Ron Garnett/Tignish Initiatives)

She is also a member of the North Cape Tourism partnership.

"To be honest there's not a lot of hope for this coming season," said Arsenault. "We have a lot of concern for all those people that are employed in the industry." 

She said while there are relief programs for many of those affected, employees are concerned they won't work enough hours to qualify for employment insurance in the fall. 

"It's a lot of uncertainty for sure." 

Even if restrictions ease up later in the summer, Arsenault believes tourism will continue to suffer because tourists will be cautious and won't be travelling far. 

Support from province

On Thursday, provincial officials did announce some relief measures for tourism operators, including a $50-million loan assistance program and a $10-million interest relief program. 

The province is also waiving fees for licensing, inspection and advertising for the remainder of the 2020 tourism season.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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