The Nova Scotia government is making $12.5 million directly available to tourism operators across the province to help them lure back visitors.
Eligible operators that have 10 or fewer rooms will receive a grant worth $1,000 per room, while larger operators are eligible for $500 per room beyond the initial $10,000 grant.
It's an attempt by the province to help a sector that has seen revenues drop by $1.7 billion, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, also known as TIANS.
TIANS said the industry generated $2.6 billion in revenues in 2019. That dropped to just $900 million last year, with most of that money coming from Nova Scotians who stayed home.
Operators can choose how to spend cash
The cabinet minister responsible for tourism, Labi Kousoulis, said operators can use the money to market their businesses or offer incentives to would-be travellers.
"The industry is not looking for government to make them whole," Kousoulis told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
"They're looking to government to help them spark the people travelling and staying in hotels again."
The province is also offering one-time $5,000 grants to businesses that are struggling because of the pandemic but do not qualify for other grants.
Business owners welcome long-awaited help
Wes Surrett, who runs the Pictou Lodge Beachfront Resort, welcomed Tuesday's announcement.
"It's been a long wait," Surrett said.
He said the grants are ideal because business owners can decide how best to spend the money.
Cash flow has been tight after a poor season last year, he added, and one of the first things to be slashed was marketing. The new funds will ensure the resort can push local attractions and deals to a wide audience.
Places like the Pictou Lodge can partner with local tourism operators to create packages for visitors, Surrett said, giving them a leg-up in an Atlantic market where each province will be competing for tourists.
Some of the new money is earmarked for guest amenities, which will allow the resort to buy things like kayaks or bikes for guests, said Surrett.
"It doesn't make up for the losses that we suffered last year, but it does help us survive," he said.
TIANS president Darlene Grant-Fiander praised the government for making the money available to operators who have been struggling because of border restrictions and quarantine requirements.
"We've had operators who haven't accessed any of the big supports or didn't qualify ... so it gives them some cash," said Grant-Fiander.
"This is not going to save somebody who's in desperate shape, but it can provide that bridge for them. And if we have a good season and we're able to extend the season into the fall and generate a lot of activity, it can help operators greatly."
Grant-Fiander said the money would benefit other businesses in communities that have hotels, motels and other accommodations.
"Tourism is incredibly important in terms of supporting a lot of other businesses," she said, adding that 85 per cent of businesses in tourism sector are small- or medium-sized.
"We employ 50,000 people, so it's going to be incredibly important that these businesses open, they hire those staff back and we get the economy going."
Border opening to Atlantic Canada on June 23
The minister also used the occasion to offer firm dates on when provincial borders will reopen and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.
"Nova Scotia will be welcoming Atlantic Canadians on June 23, and Nova Scotia will be ready to welcome visitors when we move to Phase 3 and our borders open to the rest of the country on July 14," said Kousoulis.
"We want Nova Scotians, our Atlantic Canadian neighbours and the rest of the country to plan their vacations here in Nova Scotia."
Along with the grants, the province will waive entrance fees to museums and provincial art galleries in July and August, as well as spend an extra $3 million on ad campaigns promoting Nova Scotia as a destination.
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