To open for 2021 or not? P.E.I. tourism businesses struggle to decide

·3 min read
Mark Rodd in the refurbished ballroom at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Mark Rodd in the refurbished ballroom at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Even as the Atlantic bubble is scheduled to bring down barriers among East Coast provinces in a little more than a week, many P.E.I. tourism operators are still trying to decide whether to open this season.

After a dismal summer season in 2020 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, many businesses are still unsure if it will be worth it to hire staff and restock.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty out there but I mean, we see the end is coming near — at some point here we're hoping, fingers crossed," said Mark Rodd, president and CEO of Rodd Hotels and Resorts.

The Rodd Charlottetown Hotel closed last March. The company took the down time to do some renovations at the landmark downtown hotel, and are putting on the finishing touches before reopening the doors May 14.

"Do I think it's going to be back to normal this year? No. It's going to be 2022, 2023 before things open up. Our business has been devastated. We're an industry based on travel and when you can't travel — you can understand the effects it had on us," Rodd said.

Financial help from government is the only reason they've been able to survive, Rodd said.

"We are in ground zero here, and we have a long road ahead of us," he said.

'A real roller-coaster'

Cavendish is usually a huge draw for tourists, home to Green Gables house, several L.M. Montgomery attractions, and amusement parks.

Grandpa's Antique Photo Studio in Cavendish, P.E.I., where owner Paul Gunn is unsure if he will reopen this summer.
Grandpa's Antique Photo Studio in Cavendish, P.E.I., where owner Paul Gunn is unsure if he will reopen this summer. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Grandpa's Antique Photo Studio in Cavendish didn't open last summer for the first time in 40 years.

And this year?

"If you had asked me that a month ago, I was much more positive frame of mind on opening than I am right at the moment," said studio owner Paul Gunn. "Vaccinations were coming along, there was a positive vibe in the air. Since then we've had the rising virus in most of Canada and now the shutdown. We're back to the big question mark. It's been a real roller-coaster."

Maritime Fun Group owns Sandspit amusement park and Shining Waters Family Fun Park in Cavendish. Last summer the Atlantic bubble brought tourists to P.E.I. in August, and the parks were full to their reduced capacity, but the parks only made 20 per cent of what they would in a normal year.

"We're proud to still be standing here," group president Matthew Jelley said. He thinks the best-case scenario is this summer will look a lot like last August.

Shining Waters Family Fun park is planning to open for the season at the end of June, as long as the Atlantic bubble opens on schedule.
Shining Waters Family Fun park is planning to open for the season at the end of June, as long as the Atlantic bubble opens on schedule. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

He said he will be watching not only the border restrictions but also the upcoming federal budget, hoping it will extend COVID-19 wage subsidies now scheduled to end in June.

"We can't control what is happening in Ontario and Quebec as far as variants and infection rates, but what the government can do, specifically the federal government, is to be there to support small businesses," he said.

Whether they open their doors or not, tourism operators agree this will be another challenging season. This year, much like last, will be about survival.

Next summer, with more people vaccinated, businesses are planning on life and tourism travel becoming more normal, as long as they can hold on that long.

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