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Maritime Tourism and Covid-19

Can We Stay Afloat?

Submitted by: Natalie Roth Charron

On May 16, 2021, Sandals Resorts announced that they are operational in all Caribbean destinations since the start of the pandemic. As a Canadian living in an Atlantic province, I can not help thinking “How is this possible?”

A quick trip to the Sandals website and a deeper dive into the measures taken to make travel possible to the luxury resort chain is extensive and impressive.

The list of assurances to increase traffic to these destinations impressed me! Included in the incentives to make travel as attractive as possible, Sandals offers the following:

  • Sandals pays for travelers medical insurance
  • Free room cancellation
  • Cleanliness guarantee
  • Covid-19 testing at the resort before your return to US/Canada
  • Layaway payment options

The attention to detail Sandals has implemented in these strange and ever-changing times is incredible and is clearly why this is possible. It might also offer a look into travel for the future for any destination. Is this what is necessary for people to travel, period?

With spring like weather blessing the Maritimes, folks across the Atlantic provinces are feeling hopeful. The most recent lockdown aside, Atlantic Canadians have much to be proud of in the last year. We boast some of the lowest Covid numbers and a comparatively “normal” economy when judged against the rest of the country.

The vaccine roll-out is now steadily advancing in Atlantic provinces, with anyone over the age of 25 able to book an appointment as of May 20 in Nova Scotia. The news of the Sandals resorts opening and vaccine distribution at an all time high, has Maritimers wondering when they can expect to welcome back tourists from within our country and internationally.

As mentioned, Atlantic Canadians have been relatively lucky during the pandemic, but it is no secret that our economic success depends largely on tourism.  This is especially so in the summer months and last May, Nova Scotia saw a decrease of 77% in accommodation bookings compared to the year prior (tourismns.ca). The CEO of Tourism Nova Scotia said COVID-19 cost the industry $1.5 billion (CBC.ca).

The introduction of the Atlantic Bubble in July 2020 helped a bit, as September saw a deficit of 53% of accommodation bookings compared to the year prior. Though this was encouraging, it is still not enough and begs the question whether the maritime provinces and the businesses that reside within can survive another summer of overwhelming scarcities.

2021 tourism success will depend on continued interest from people within Nova Scotia and hopefully from the other Atlantic provinces. In 2020, the Atlantic bubble began on July 3 and there is hope that the bubble will be able to open up again soon, though when the bubble may resume, has yet to be decided.

Nico Manos, the co-owner of the Lawrencetown Surf Company in Lawrencetown, N.S sites that the Atlantic bubble had a great positive impact on their business last year, and he is hoping for the same this year (cbc.ca).

Maritimers made do with the idea of “staycations” last year, seeing as international and inter-provincial travel was out of reach. Nova Scotians alone spend about $1.2 billion a year on travel outside of the province, (Cbc.ca) so it is up to locals to make up the deficit that exists from the lack of visitors coming from outside of the bubble and country.

A lot happens in a short time however and Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at University of Alberta Hospital says she is feeling optimistic and states “I’d be surprised if we didn’t see an ability to travel within your province for sure, and very likely between provinces.(CBC).

Back in March, Nova Scotian Premier Iain Rankin didn’t “think we’re there yet” (cbc.ca). Yet, with the increase of vaccinations in the past 4 weeks, there is hope that come July and August, people from outside the Atlantic provinces may be able to enter without restriction.

International travel is still uncertain; however experts claim that even once a population is 50% vaccinated, transmission of Covid-19 decreases drastically.

The question remains, will measures like those taken by Sandals Resort be the new standard for travel, whether local or international? It makes me wonder how small businesses around the country can compete with the standards set out by Sandals. I can imagine that large chain hotels may be able to offer something similar (potential for pro bono health insurance and onsite testing before return home). But these types of assurances seem too far out of reach for the average bed and breakfast or even a privately owned seaside hotel.

When the boarders do open between provinces, small communities in the Maritimes and across the country, that are so dependent on tourist dollars, may still need to continue to capitalize on their local community to give them a needed kickstart. This messaging with be especially important, as the summer months will surely prove to be highly saturated with advertising from tourism operators country-wide, calling for all Canadians to travel and boost their economy from within.

Rose Wagner

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