With the accelerating COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Newfoundland and Labrador, Health Minister John Haggie is optimistic that staycation season will start on time this year, but the reaction from tourism operators is mixed.
"I think we may well be on track to start on time this year," Haggie said of staycations during Friday's provincial COVID-19 briefing, moments after Premier Andrew Furey announced that people who want the vaccine will have the shot by the end of June.
Despite optimism from the provincial government, the pandemic has decimated the tourism industry worldwide over the last year, as people have been ordered to stay home as much as possible, borders have closed and airlines have slashed and suspended flights.
Last summer, the province's $1 billion tourism industry slowed to a trickle of staycationers and a few tourists from nearby provinces, once the Atlantic bubble formed in July.
Kier Knudsen, owner the Dark Tickle Company in St. Lunaire-Griquet on the Northern Peninsula, says his family has been in business, in some form, for over 100 years. His company is known for its wild berry jams, sauces and chocolates sold in gift shops across the province. They also operate a boat tour expedition and a cafe.
He said their gift shop and orders for their wholesale products were "dead" last year, and they didn't operate the boat tour at all.
Knudsen calls the provincial government's optimism about staycations "a positive thing." But, he said, because they're about a thousand kilometres away from the Avalon Peninsula, fewer staycationers will be at their door, as it's difficult for them to come for the weekend.
"I mean, we'll get some staycationers, but it's not enough to support a tourism business in this area," he said.
"So we really need interprovincial travel to open for us to make a go of it."
Knudsen noted 70 per cent of his business relies on visitors from Ontario and Quebec.
Prince Edward Island's Premier Dennis King said Sunday he's hopeful the Atlantic Bubble will reopen by "early spring."
But the Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister said it's too early to predict what will happen with interprovincial travel.
"Because that's outside our control. But I really think that by the end of summer, there will be some serious consideration, maybe, of going back to a level one," Haggie said Friday.
Meanwhile, Knudsen said people typically start their vacation planning during the winter and early spring, which will influence how well tourism operators do over the summer months.
"If they're not doing that now, there's a good chance they're not going to be able to come in. The season — it's dead before it starts," he said.
"2022 is what we're looking towards."
Knudsen added he's hoping locals continue to support the province's tourism industry and continue taking staycations after the pandemic is over.
Focusing on locals
In contrast, Janet Denstedt, owner of the Old Saltbox Co. — a company operating vacation homes dotted across Newfoundland — says her focus will be on staycationers.
"I think this year we're just really focused on supplying our Newfoundlanders with a special holiday and preparing out-of-province people for 2022 at this point," she said, while hoping for some out-of-province travels later in the fall.
She calls the late start to last summer's staycation season "challenging," since her company lost all out-of-province bookings, amounting to 70 per cent of their business.
"We survived," she said.
"For the most part, it ended up pretty good. We had a whole lot more staycationers through our houses that never would have gotten to stay."
While she is looking forward to a better season this summer, her biggest concern is about other tourism businesses who have also struggled through the last year.
"The restaurants, and the tour operators and just local crafts people and musicians that are losing out on international and out-of-province visitors ... if we don't have them as part of our industry, then it really cuts down on the experience that the guests get," Denstedt said.
Still, she thinks demand to visit the province will increase as the world recovers from COVID-19.
"There's going to be so much pent up desire to get to the rock," she said.