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Dan James, owner of Cavendish’s Kindred Spirits Inn and Cottages, set out last month to figure out how viable a staycation summer would be.
COVID-19 travel restrictions have effectively choked off visits to P.E.I. from out-of-province residents. It remains unclear if any of these travel restrictions will be eased over the summer.
So, James surveyed Islanders about their summer plans.
"We were curious of what would be the uptake of a Cavendish staycation," he said.
The survey received a response from 430 Islanders.
James’ modelling also looked at census data on household incomes as well as Islanders with an income high enough to afford a vacation.
His projections estimate between 8,000 and 10,000 households would consider a vacation in P.E.I. this year, a small fraction of the number of overnight stays seen each summer in the area.
Most Islanders would be interested in a stay of one or two nights, but only if rates were reduced to 30 to 50 per cent of regular rates.
"Our best guess is we would do as much in an entire season as we would do during a country music festival,” James said, referring to the business he typically sees during the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.
“So, not promising."
James said opening carries significant costs and could mean a loss. But he is tentatively planning to open anyway.
Not opening runs the risk of losing longtime employees.
Although the federal government has put in place programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for employers and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for workers, it is unclear how long these programs will last. Workers who remain on the CERB over the summer may not have the required hours to qualify for EI in the fall.
"We kind of feel there is a moral imperative for us as employers to get them as many hours as we can," James said.
On top of this, it is not clear to what extent the P.E.I. National Park will open.
James’ modelling indicates that amenities such as the National Park and North Shore restaurants would need to open for locals to consider a staycation in the area.
On Thursday, Parks Canada released a statement saying some National Parks in Canada would re-open on June 1. But the statement did not specify which National Parks would reopen and what guidelines would need to be followed.
Further details are expected “in the coming weeks”, according to Parks Canada.
The lack of specificity in the announcement seemed to underscore the frustration felt by tourism operators.
“The future of tourism on the North Shore is at a perilous tipping point,” read a letter sent from Cavendish Beach Tourism Inc. president Steve Murphy to provincial Tourism Minister Matthew MacKay last week.
“The talk of promoting staycations is premature. Without knowing which operations are viable for this season and beyond, there is no point in developing marketing plans.”
The letter calls for clarity on whether the door is closed to travel from Ontario and Quebec over the summer, as well as clarity on when travel from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia may be allowed. The letter also calls for the province to ensure Parks Canada fully open the National Parks and for public health protocols that might permit long-term stays for visitors willing to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
Murphy, who owns the Blue Mussel Café in Rustico and Slaymaker & Nichols in downtown Charlottetown, says he and his wife are planning to open in the summer despite the bleak prospects.
“Last week, we said, 'we're just going to open, we're going to figure it out,’” Murphy said.
Murphy’s concern for the tourism industry is focused more on whether the losses from 2020 will mean many simply will not have an operating season in 2021.
"We've got our heads wrapped around the fact that it's going to be a loss this year. It's just a matter of how do we lose the least amount," Murphy said.
The short-term timeframe for federal programs like the CEWS, is also a concern for operators. Although the federal program provides up to 75 per cent of the wages of employees of businesses, applications are based on the operator’s revenue from January to February 2020. The program is currently set to expire as of June 6.
P.E.I. Tourism Minister Matthew MacKay said he has been pushing his federal counterpart, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, to re-open the National Park for weeks. He has also been pushing for an extension of the CEWS.
But reached on Thursday, MacKay said he did not know whether P.E.I.’s National Park will be open June 1.
"We're opening up our provincial parks on June 5th. So, there's really no reason the National Parks shouldn't be open," he said.
MacKay said the decision on dates for reopening travel to other Atlantic provinces, such as New Brunswick, will be a decision made by the Chief Public Health Office.
Easing travel restrictions too quickly carries some risk of the coronavirus spreading on P.E.I., MacKay said.
MacKay said there have been discussions around easing required 14-day quarantines for Atlantic Canadian travellers only, but there are no definite decisions on when this might occur.
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