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‘The crystal ball isn’t working’: Maritime tourism operators prepare for unpredictable season


Businesses in the Maritimes are trying to prepare for the upcoming tourism season, but they can only do so much.

“It looks like the season will be as gloomy as today, I guess,” Ron Cormier, owner-operator of Shediac Bay Cruises, tells Global News on a windy Friday with plenty of rain falling.

The business typically sees about 10,000-to-11,000 people per year. But last year numbers were down 80 per cent, Cormier says.

“One-third of our business is international tourism, which [come from] buses,” he says.

They’ve had to trim their summer student positions from 10 to about three.

Read more: Maritime businesses brace for a second summer without cruise ship tourists

“And that’s a shame,” he says. “Those students have student loans and we want to get them as much work as we can, but our hands are tied.”

The Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick says along with the Explore NB rebate program, the Atlantic bubble provided a boost to operators last year.

Its hoping for travel loosened travel restrictions when it’s safe to do so, but federal wage subsidies for eligible businesses will be another key to help ensure they make it through.

Carol Alderdice, the CEO, says the subsidy will start shrinking in July.

“We actually absolutely need the wage subsidy to continue at 75 per cent for the hardest hit, and even up until the end of the year,” Alderdice says. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m really, really concerned about a lot of our operators.”

Only a handful of their 435 members have had to permanently close, she says.

And some outdoor-based businesses, such as golf and snowmobiling businesses, have done “pretty well.”

But with lack of festivals, groupings and sports, the hospitality sector has not.

“Those are the ones who have suffered the most,” she says, “definitely the hardest hit.”

Read more: New Brunswick is giving $3 million in rebates to residents who staycation in the province

In Halifax, Ambassatours Gray Line is responsible for cruise ship servicing. It operates several sightseeing boats such as Tall Ship Silva and the Harbour Hopper.

They’re adapting on the fly, too.

“The crystal ball isn’t working so well,” Ambassatours CEO Dennis Campbell says in an interview. “A week or two ago, we thought we were going with plan A. Now, we’re actually on plan C.”

He says that has direct correlation with the again-postponed Atlantic bubble. Premiers say talks are on hold until “the threat of further outbreaks has been reduced, based on advice from the region’s Chief Medical Officers of Health.”

Many businesses are hoping the bubble can be re-inflated soon, and are even hoping the provincial borders can open to the rest of the country at some point this summer, if it’s safe.

“We’re just hoping and praying that we can see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Cormier says.

Click to play video: Tourism stakeholders concerned by Higgs’ comments on vaccines, travel