P.E.I. tourism operators press province for updates on visitor restrictions

Prince Edward Island tourism operators are pressing the provincial government for more details on when visitor restrictions will be eased, or at least updated. 

The province is promoting vacations at home for Islanders. But the president of the Cavendish Beach Tourism Association says operators need to know which existing bookings they can cancel if the province wants Islanders to holiday on P.E.I.

“Right now, everybody on the north shore is doing modelling,” said Steve Murphy, who said the association has written to the province’s tourism minister seeking clarity on when more information on visitor restrictions might be available. 

“What do I know, what do I not know? How is it gonna affect my business? Should I open, should I not open?”

He said businesses are crunching numbers, trying to figure out what will see them losing the least amount of money. That could be staying closed for the season, or opening, knowing the traffic won’t be anywhere near normal levels.

Steve Murphy, President of the Cavendish Beach Tourism Association, says the group has written to the province’s tourism minister for clarity on potential next steps when it comes to visitor restrictions. (Brian Higgins)

Murphy said he can appreciate that COVID-19 makes things hard to plan.

But he said even knowing when they can expect the next update on visitor restrictions would help.  

“We’re looking more for, ‘What do we know for sure,'” said Murphy. “We have accommodations in Cavendish that are holding reservations for Ontario and Quebec right now, so how long do they hold those for? Is Ontario or Quebec an option this summer?”

Hundreds of bookings already cancelled

Dan James, owner of Cavendish resort Kindred Spirits, said he’s already cancelled hundreds of bookings for May and June.

He has hundreds more for July and August, but can’t make those available for Islanders to book until he knows who may be allowed to visit.

“We understand that it’s a fluid situation and we understand that they can’t know everything in advance, but even probabilities would be helpful,” said James.  

He’s grateful that the federal government’s emergency wage-subsidy program, which was set to end June 6, is now being extended beyond June. More details are expected next week. 

But he said it’ll take a lot to keep the Island tourism industry going when it’s used to 1.6-million visitors every summer, and, this year, will see only a fraction of that.

“We’re looking at two per cent of our core business,” said James. “We could probably increase that, but for us it’s going to be a single-digit percentage of our regular income.”

Dan James, owner of Kindred Spirits in Cavendish, says he’s got hundreds of bookings that he’d like to open up to Islanders, but can’t until he knows when and whether people from off-Island will be allowed to visit this summer. (Brian Higgins )

To assist operators, the Cavendish Beach Tourism Association is hoping the province will come up with programs to help keep the industry afloat, such as rent relief and interest relief on mortgages and loans. 

Murphy said it’s not just about surviving the summer. He said these operators will need support until next summer if the Island wants to be able to continue to offer world-class accommodations and restaurants to visitors. 

“Let’s say we get through this year and find a vaccine and the year goes great next year, what’s our product offering going to look like if we don’t support those businesses now?” said Murphy. “We may not have a lot to offer off-Island visitors if we don’t take care of it this year.”

Self-isolation will be one of the last restrictions lifted

On Friday, Premier Dennis King said he couldn’t foresee visitors coming anytime soon without having to self-isolate for two weeks. 

“If the booking was summer long, I think maybe you might want to hold on to that a little bit longer,” said King. “But I think if a booking was for two weeks or less, for someone out of province, it’s probably quite likely that they wouldn’t be coming here, because they would need to self-isolate while they’re here.”

He said there’s talk about considering New Brunswick “down the road.” But he said there hasn’t been much talk at all about visitors from elsewhere in Canada or the U.S. 

“We do understand there’s a lot of questions from the tourism industry, and there’s a lot of questions from many industries, and it is as frustrating for them as it is for us to not have a definitive answer,” said King. 

King said public health has been adamant that self-isolation for travellers would be one of the last things to be lifted. But said an update pertaining to visitors could come as early as next week. 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government’s website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


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