Latest COVID-19 restrictions hurt accommodations in Cape Breton

·3 min read
The ocean-hugging Cabot Trail is seen here in January 2021. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)
The ocean-hugging Cabot Trail is seen here in January 2021. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC - image credit)

Accommodations in Cape Breton are feeling the effects of tighter pandemic restrictions in other parts of the province.

Nova Scotians are being asked to avoid non-essential travel to and from the Halifax Regional Municipality and parts of Hants and Lunenburg counties after a growing number of COVID-19 cases.

For some year-round accommodations along Cape Breton's Cabot Trail, the changes introduced last week have resulted in a rash of cancellations.

"We were just getting really excited actually, the snow finally hit ... and then boom, these new restrictions," said Bricin Lyons, co-owner of the Highlands Hostel in Cape North.

Thousands of dollars refunded

Lyons said he's lost most of his bookings for this month. His partner spent two days going through reservations and refunding thousands of dollars.

The hostel — a converted, 100-year-old church — has been operating at 50 per cent capacity, which means it fills up quickly.

Lyons is hoping that means some would-be visitors from non-restricted areas of Nova Scotia will snap up the open spaces.

"These bookings were huge for us," he said. "We're trying to get through a winter here, so it's tough."

The view from Knotty Pine Cottages during fall in Ingonish Beach, N.S.
The view from Knotty Pine Cottages during fall in Ingonish Beach, N.S.(Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

The owner of Knotty Pine Cottages near Ski Cape Smokey is also losing bookings. David Li and his wife have owned the brightly coloured cottages for four years.

Li said he's lost about a third of his March business, starting with the cancellation of a mountain biking event at Ski Cape Smokey last weekend due to the new restrictions. Since then, he's also lost bookings for March break.

Li predicted those cancellations will only rise once he takes a look at the remaining reservations.

"We have to look at each individual booking, so if a customer is from Halifax, we have to call them, we have to cancel them," said Li.

Unexpected silver lining

Kody Fraser will also be taking a look at his bookings to see where customers are coming from. Fraser is the co-owner of Valley View Chalets in Margaree Valley. The chalets opened just a couple weeks before the first lockdown in 2020.

"Most [customers] are good to message me, but I do have to touch base with some just as a reminder," he said.

Kody Fraser says his business is seeing snowmobilers who normally travel to New Brunswick, but are instead choosing to come to Cape Breton because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Kody Fraser says his business is seeing snowmobilers who normally travel to New Brunswick, but are instead choosing to come to Cape Breton because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.(Submitted by Kody Fraser)

But there might not be many bookings to cancel as Fraser has been welcoming visitors he didn't expect to see when the chalets opened last year — snowmobilers from the southwestern part of the province.

That's been a silver lining in an unpredictable year for tourism.

"That's actually been a bit of a boom for us, which was kind of surprising," said Fraser.

'Nobody is going to be able to keep up'

Fraser said most of the snowmobilers are from the Annapolis Valley and the South Shore and normally go to New Brunswick to snowmobile. Now they've flocked to Cape Breton and he said many want to come back.

"It just didn't occur to them, I guess, and now they're saying, 'Well, geez, this is great.'"

Lyons is also looking for the silver linings. He believes when people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and more of the province opens up, places like Cape Breton will get a banner year for tourism.

"Nobody is going to be able to keep up," he said. "Everyone is going to want to get out."

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