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HNL board member says more government intervention needed to help struggling tourism industry

Cathy Lomond is the owner or Hotel Port aux Basques and the hotel/motel representative on the board of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cathy Lomond is the owner or Hotel Port aux Basques and the hotel/motel representative on the board of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador. - Contributed

Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) is concerned about the tourism situation in this province with so many operators closing up or operating at reduced capacity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you look at our destinations, like Bonavista, Twillingate and Gros Morne, and they’re somewhat ghost towns, that’s a scary thought,” said Cathy Lomond.

Lomond is the hotel/motel representative on the HNL board and also sits on the board of the Hotel Association of Canada.

In the last number of years, she said, the Department of Tourism and local organizations like Western DMO and Tourism Southwest have all invested a lot of money, going to trade shows and markets to promote all of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“And we all know that Gros Morne is iconic. No matter where you go, people know what it is.”

Cathy Lomond
Cathy Lomond

Recently two big accommodation and attraction businesses in Gros Morne — the Ocean View Hotel and BonTours — announced they won’t open this year.

“Those hotels up in that park only survive because of the attractions that are there. And so, if you don’t have the attractions open, it’s not a reason to go there.”

HNL just conducted a survey that showed it’s only about 28 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who keep the tourism industry going in peak season — the rest are non-residents.

“We don’t have the population to support some of the big industry players that are out there,” said Lomond.

And she’s hearing that a lot of HNL members offering accommodations across the province are opting to stay closed.

“Even for some of the smaller ones that are open — over 50 rooms — they are open but they are all certainly scared.”

One operator told her he expects to lose $2 million off his gross sales because he lost 300 nights from bus tours.

“You don’t get that back from local residents.”

Staycations are a great idea, but Lomond said not everyone is getting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or have the means to travel. Some are fearful of travelling.

As owner of the Hotel Port aux Basques, Lomond knows first hand the impact the pandemic is having. Her more than 40 years in the industry didn't prepare her for this.

She reopened two weeks ago after being closed for 10 weeks. After working alone for so long she needed the break, and with employees asking if she would reopen and the Atlantic bubble happening, she took the plunge with a plan to try it for a month.

“There’s a big cost to being open. There’s also a big cost to being closed.”

She’s hoping there will be enough people travelling to make it viable, and not necessarily tourists. She’s looking at people who travel for work, contractors and inspectors.

Lomond said there is a need for more government intervention in the industry as it will take a while in 2021 for businesses to get back on their feet.

She knows from discussions with the national board that a lot of businesses are not taking advantage of the wage subsidy program for fear of the paperwork involved and having to pay it back and wondering if they would even qualify.

“We need a cash injection, we need liquidity, something to help us survive the long winter ahead of us.

“We don’t need loans.”

Saltwire Network reached out to the Parks Canada and the provincial Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation for comment and both replied with statements via email.

Here’s what they had to say:

Parks Canada: “Tourism is one of the main industries in the Gros Morne region; however, it is too early to understand the full impact of COVID-19 on businesses and operations within Gros Morne National Park, including the Western Brook Pond boat tour.

“We understand that many businesses are adapting their plans and operations to respond to current circumstances and to keep staff and visitors safe.

“The Parks Canada team in Gros Morne continues to work with partners and stakeholders in the tourism industry, locally and provincially, to understand the impacts of Covid-19 and how we can work together moving forward this season and in future years.

“Parks Canada is carefully managing risks to visitors and team members and is following the advice of public health experts. We know this summer will be different in Gros Morne as a large portion of visitation in years past included visitors from off-island. We continue to work with our partners and stakeholders in the tourism industry to focus on providing a safe and welcoming experience for those able to visit this season.”

Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation: “The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador fully recognizes the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on many tourism and hospitality industries and businesses across the province.

“In May, the provincial government announced a new $25-million Tourism and Hospitality Support Program to help eligible operators get back on their feet, to help better position themselves to re-open as restrictions begin to ease.

“To date, nearly 800 operators have applied to the Tourism and Hospitality Support Program.

“In June, a 10-week in-province tourism marketing campaign was launched, entitled ‘Stay Home Year 2020’, to encourage residents to spend their vacation at home in 2020. At this point, operators tell us this campaign has been very well received thus far.

“Under Alert Level 2, businesses such as Splash n’ Putt and the Western Brook boat tours are allowed to open. The decision whether to open or not lies with each individual business, and if it can adhere to the guidelines and conditions set by the Chief Medical Officer for Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Diane Crocker on Twitter

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