Tourism sector needs a helping hand, says operators

By Chris Lewis | Mar. 11, 2021

Newfoundland and Labrador’s tourism sector has been one of the province’s biggest money-makers of the last two decades, but some say the industry will need some help if that is to continue.

John Devereaux, owner of the Edge of the Avalon Inn in Trepassey, was recently re-elected for a second term as a member of the Board of Directors for Hospitality NL, the collective body overlooking tourism in the province. Devereaux said Newfoundland’s tourism sector cannot survive another year like 2020.

In January of last year, Devereaux said things seemed to be shaping up well for the Inn in particular, with some 700 bookings already. It was only a couple of months later that the province announced a total lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Devereaux said his business saw 630 cancellations.

“That was definitely a kick to us,” he said, noting that April and May are usually the busier months in the industry when the Inn sees a big boost in bookings from people around the province looking to get out and experience the Irish Loop.

When the business started doing its financials, he said they were at about 20 per cent of the year before.

He said although there were plenty of Newfoundlanders out doing the “staycation” trend and spending locally, 2020 was still a big hit to the industry due to the small amount of people staying at hotels and inns.

As such, Deveraux said he is certain a number of businesses in the industry will simply be unable to survive a second year like the last one.

“I hate to be negative, but I’m not seeing the start of the summer, at the very least, being much better than last year,” he said.

Currently, one of the bigger obstacles for tourism are the simple unknowns. Right now, he said, there are important things that are still unclear, like whether or not the province will be able to open up to an Atlantic bubble, or if airlines will open up at all.

Then the question boils down to whether or not people are going to feel comfortable with the idea of travelling right away, even if they do receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

“Hopefully the government steps in again and tries to sustain (the industry),” he said. “Then, hopefully, by 2022 people will be just chomping at the bit to travel and get out.”

That government help, he said, would ideally include financial aid from the federal government, whose shoulders the tourism sector is riding on while it waits out the pandemic.

Devereaux said the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy was one of the biggest helps the industry received from the feds thus far, and he hopes to see it make a return this coming year. He suspects without it, there would simply be no way for businesses like small restaurants and hoteliers to make it through to 2022.

In talking with others involved in the tourism scene, he described the wage subsidy program as hands-down the most important piece of the puzzle to surviving in an industry on its last few breaths.

“Last year, we would not have been able to get by without the wage subsidy, so we’re hoping it will be extended next year to, hopefully, go into the fall,” Devereaux said. “Hopefully the provincial government can step in a bit. So, basically, a wage subsidy and liquidity are the two biggest things right now. That’s what’s going to help us get over the hump, and hopefully we can survive long enough after that to get us through next year.”

The tourism sector’s revival, as far as he can tell, relies on a number of factors: vaccination, comfort, and airlines.

Devereaux suspects once vaccinations are commonplace, it will still be some time before travel picks back up and people are comfortable with the idea of leaving or entering the province again.

“If people don’t book flights, we won’t get airlines back yet,” he also noted.

Until then, he said it is just a matter of waiting it out and hoping for the best. In time, he said the industry will be back to what it once was, but he is worrisome about how long that process will take.

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