Businesses counting on tourism look to 'staycationers' to fill void

Businesses counting on tourism look to ‘staycationers’ to fill void

Darlene Worth is trying to remain optimistic. 

Worth co-owns the Pink Church Boutique, a shop in Hopewell Cape that counts on tourism traffic along Route 114 to Fundy National Park and the Hopewell Rocks.

The pandemic has shuttered the business, and halted tourist activity many New Brunswick businesses count on during the summer and fall.

But as the province prepares to ease measures to control the spread of the pandemic, she’s encouraged it will seek to promote New Brunswickers travelling within the province to support the tourism sector. 

“This year is definitely going to be different because we’re going to have to look at the staycationers and the day-trippers,” Worth said. 

I think that in this situation, this is a time to discover New Brunswick once again.–  Blaine Higgs, premier

The provincial government is expected to announce on Friday a four-phase plan to ease restrictions. 

The specifics are not yet clear, but Premier Blaine Higgs has recently alluded to how tourism could be an aspect of the plan. 

This week, he said opening provincial borders will likely be “one of the last” measures changed. That would restrict tourism operators to relying on internal customers.

“I think that in this situation, this is a time to discover New Brunswick once again,” Higgs said Monday. “Hopefully, that will be soon.”

World-famous Parlee Beach draws many visitors from outside the province. (CBC)

The tourism sector contributed more than $520 million each year to the province’s economy, and employs about 42,000 people, according to the Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick. 

Jillian Somers, the City of Moncton’s director of tourism and events, is part of a provincial working group looking at what tourism could look like this summer and through the rest of 2020. 

“Our first goal will be to encourage people, when it’s safe to do so, to move around the province,” Somers said. 

“So it’s our job to encourage that activity within the province before we look outward because we’re really not sure when that’s going to open up or when we’re going to be able to attract visitors from other regions.”

The Hopewell Rocks, a provincial park, is one of the province’s top attractions. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Ray Roberge, co-chair of the New Brunswick Hotel Association and general manager of the Delta Beauséjour in Moncton, is encouraged to hear about a focus on travelling within the province, once that’s deemed safe. 

The pandemic has resulted in 80 per cent of hotels in the province temporarily closing, Roberge said. Those that remain open are seeing occupancy of about two to three per cent.

He said about half of room bookings in the province are from New Brunswickers, while roughly 25 per cent are from other Maritime provinces.

The rest are generally from Ontario, Quebec and the United States, he said.

“I think it’s a good start if the borders are going to be closed and the cases are under control,” Roberge said.

“We want to make sure that when we’re opening, we’re doing it in a very safe, calculating way to make sure the guests that are travelling are doing it in a safe way.”

Alison Elias, left, and Darlene Worth co-own the Pink Church Boutique. Worth says the business has adapted to the pandemic by opening an online store. (Submitted by Darlene Worth)

Like other businesses, Worth’s shop, which sells vintage and antique items, has adapted to the pandemic.

It opened an online store and offers shipping or delivery up to Moncton. 

Worth worries visitors are facing tight budgets because of the pandemic’s impact on jobs.

“People are going to watch what they’re spending,” Worth said.

“We’re not really a necessity, so I think it’s going to affect us a little bit more than people running accommodations or food service.”

Paddlers shown at Herring Cove in Fundy National Park last summer. (Shane Magee/CBC)

She hopes nearby federal and provincial parks will reopen as part of the recovery plan once safe to do so. 

Parks Canada announced this week Fundy National Park would remain closed until May 31.

But there are many questions about what may be allowed under what Higgs has called “the new normal.” 

Will sports be able to resume? How many people will be able to gather in one place? 

It’s a question Worth wonders since the shop had offered classes in repurposing old items.

The classes drew 20 to 25 people per session last year. If the shop can reopen, she said, it wanted to increase the number of classes to account for lost shopping revenue. 

But any limits on gatherings could affect whether that’s possible. 

“Nobody really knows,” Worth said. “I think it’s just trying to be optimistic at this point thinking that your year is not ruined.”

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