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Craig Jones isn’t expecting miracles from the Atlantic travel bubble now in effect.
“Slow and steady."
That’s how the Rodd Crowbush Golf and Beach Resort general manager sees the rest of the tourism season, even with visitors being able to cross borders freely within the region.
Jones said occupancy has been around 20-30 per cent so far, and he expects that to be the norm unless border restrictions drop to travellers from Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern U.S.
"Without those being available, that takes a pretty big hit on your hotel night stays, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds and everything else," said Jones, who is also the president of the Hotel Association of Prince Edward Island.
The Atlantic travel bubble began on Friday. It reopened the provincial borders essentially closed by COVID-19. Residents of Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador can now travel within those provinces without having to self-isolate for 14 days.
At one point, the lineup at the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border was seven kilometres long. And, just before 12:01 a.m. on Friday, vehicles were lined up on the New Brunswick and P.E.I. sides of the Confederation Bridge.
Jones has seen an uptick in reservations since the bubble was announced, but nowhere near what it was a year ago. In fact, this time last year, the hotel would have been sold out.
"There's just not a lot of travel. International borders all around the world are closed," Jones said on Monday.
Jones adds that many accommodations operations are small businesses. The challenge they're facing is whether to operate at a loss or even open up at all.
"The chances of operating at a loss are pretty high. And, the scary part is if you operate at a loss for too long, you still have to pay bills in what's considered the off-season," he said.
One of the first places travellers coming off the Marine Atlantic ferry in Port aux Basques, N.L. have to stop is the Circle K. Manager Daphne Harvey said traffic off the ferry hadn’t really slowed down during COVID-19, but it has changed since the Atlantic bubble opened.
“There definitely was an increase (over the weekend). We had a nice few coming off the boat.”
She said staff noted people coming in during the weekend and more arrived on Monday morning. Most of the traffic coming off the boat usually heads east on the Trans-Canada Highway for other destinations in the province.
Corner Brook, N.L., just over two hours away from the ferry terminal, is often the first stop for many. But in the first weekend of inter-provincial travel Nicole Chambers, the manager of the Quality Inn on Maple Valley Road in the city, said, “We haven’t really seen anything. But we’re bracing for it.”
She said there are a few bookings for out of province visitors coming up in July with more in August. The hotel had reduced the number of rooms it had opened in the early days of COVID-19 and its restaurant remains closed.
Chambers said the third floor has been reopened because of the Atlantic bubble and has been designated for visitors from out of province. She hopes to have the restaurant opened by August. But she said they are being cautious, waiting to see if opening the bubble has an impact on COVID-19 cases. Chambers said if they bring in produce and other items for restaurant and have to shut down again it will be a big loss. She said they gave away most of the food on hand when it had to close.
About 52 kilometres east of the city on the TCH in Deer Lake, N.L. is the Deer Lake Motel. A lot of its visitors come through the Deer Lake Airport. General manager Chris Legge said they lost a lot of bookings because of COVID-19, and while not yet at capacity, things are getting better.
“We’ve seen a little steady increase over the last couple of weeks.” He couldn’t say if the opening of the bubble had an impact over the weekend, as a lot of visitors are drive-by, walk-ins. “Which is not uncommon for us.” But Legge expects to see more people from the Atlantic provinces and said the airport being open is good for the motel.
In Cape Breton, the cars and trucks were lined up 30 deep at North Sydney’s Marine Atlantic terminal on Friday. A few are stopping along the way. At the Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay, executive director Mary Pat Mombourquette, saw six out-of-province visitors Monday, all from New Brunswick.
Karen Pinsent, at Amos Pewter in Mahone Bay, N.S., said business was up over the weekend, but mostly from fellow Nova Scotians.
“It was just the first weekend and I’m sure that will pick up, but we didn’t see a lot of that this past weekend.”
Pinsent said, for the most part, visitors to the artisans’ shop were from the Halifax area, although there were some from Cape Breton “which is nice,” she said.
“I seem to feel a lot of people travelling this weekend were visiting family. People have just started (travelling). I think it will be another week for sure until we see what the summer is going to feel like. We’re very optimistic that we will be able to make something out of the summer.”
Campbell Bailey, a certified cider and beer sommelier with Meander River Farm and Brewery in Ashdale, N.S., noticed an increase in out-of-province visitors when the Atlantic bubble opened up.
“This time of year, more people start to flow through just in general, but we have seen a few more people come through from P.E.I., or New Brunswick,” the entrepreneur said.
Bailey said being able to welcome visitors from across the Atlantic provinces will certainly be good for all businesses and tourist attractions this summer. But she is also encouraging Nova Scotians to continue supporting local businesses.
“Even though people are planning to do more trips outside of the province, as things begin to open up, I hope that they do continue to support local because businesses thrive and survive on visitors, whether that’s from inside the province, next door, outside the province or across Canada,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jones is looking forward to 2021. He’s hopeful, but only if more borders open up.
"Without it being easier to travel, you're going to see this trend continue of it being extremely slow. It's catastrophic for the tourism industry, not just hotels and accommodations. It's catastrophic for anybody that relies on tourism," he said.
With files from Kathy Johnson, Jeremy Fraser and Carole Morris-Underhill
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