The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on businesses, but the sector that’s been hit the hardest is the travel and tourism sector.
“We lost $1.7 billion last year,” said Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia president Darlene Grant-Fiander.
While things picked up in 2021 with the opening of the province’s international borders late in the summer, Grant-Fiander says the industry is still nowhere near 2019 levels.
“The estimate is that if we get COVID under control nationally, it’s going to be four years to get back to 2019 levels of economic activity,” said Grant-Fiander.
For many of those in the tourism industry, grants and subsidies from government have been crucial in being able to stay afloat.
“We wouldn’t even be open if it wasn’t for the wage subsidy,” said Wes Surrett, the general manager of Pictou Lodge Beach Resort.
“Things like that really helped. (It) was necessary to get us over the gap.”
But as restrictions continue to ease across the country, there’s a call from the tourism industry for the federal government to reconsider how it rolls out its COVID-19 support programs.
“We want to see a move away from broad business support to a focus on those sectors that were hardest hit,” said Grant-Fiander.
Some small business operators say it’s frustrating seeing money go to those who don’t need it while they struggle to survive.
“I have friends in the construction business, and their businesses are up 200-300 per cent and they were still allotted this money,” said Peter Richardson, owner of Peggy’s Cove Boat Tours.
“I think the people that were impacted the most should have the bulk.”
Richardson says he was basically forced to close his business during the pandemic, with the bulk of customers typically coming from international destinations.
Richardson says even in the 2021 season didn’t make sense to open as typically things slow down after Labour Day, and with borders not opening until mid-August, he decided to find other work for this summer, but says he plans to reopen next year.
Other businesses say they have already started to see things improve. At Pictou Lodge Beach Resort, Surrett says August was one of their busiest months ever, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
“The labour piece was one thing that held back potential revenue,” said Surrett.
As things picked up over the summer, the resort struggled to fill staffing positions, consistently having three to four vacancies at any given time.
“There were a lot of nights we had rooms out of order because we just couldn’t get them cleaned,” he said.
“Same within the restaurant, there would be nights we had tables we couldn’t fill because we didn’t have the bodies to service those tables.”
Grant-Fiander says it’s been a challenge across the industry this summer and it’s in part why they’re calling on the government to re-evaluate how it administers COVID-19 benefits, particularly the EI program.
“Supports that are currently in place are very attractive and I think they’re keeping people home.”
Grant-Fiander acknowledges that the industry itself also has to adapt, with more competitive wages, and there’s already a shift happening but they will need continued support from government as the industry as a whole works to bounce back.
“There’s not a community that’s not impacted from tourism,” said Grant-Fiander.
Help for the tourism sector was something talked about on the campaign trail, with the federal Liberals promising they would continue with wage and rent supports as well as subsidies for revenue loss.
With the election now over, and the Liberal Party returning to a minority government, travel associations across the country are calling on all members of Parliament to support these initiatives and to work collectively to pass any needed legislation as quickly as possible when Parliament resumes.
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