Cape Breton Post
Could Atlantic Bubble re-inflate industry?
‘I do think we have a window of opportunity'
Remember the good old days when we here in Atlantic Canada would brag to the rest of the world about the Atlantic Bubble and how we collectively managed to tame the COVID-19 virus.
That was around this time last year, and it turned out to be temporary. It was followed by a second wave and a third wave of the pandemic, which popped the dream of the Atlantic Bubble having a longlasting effect.
But is there something Atlantic Canadians could salvage from brief success of the Atlantic Bubble, which would have a more lasting benefit, beyond COVID-19.
In case you don't recall, the Atlantic Bubble was created to allow residents of the four Atlantic provinces to tour within the region without concern about quarantine when they returned home. Many Atlantic Canadians would swell with pride whenever someone lumped us in with the likes of New Zealand and other places with the lowest COVID numbers in the world.
Now, it is looking like the Atlantic Bubble is slowly being re-inflated. Comparatively speaking, there is little doubt that Atlantic Canada had and has among the lowest infection rates going.
There was a level of optimism about this year, that business will get its re-start, according to Darlene Grant Fiander, president of Tourism Industry of Nova Scotia.
“Last year when we were out, a few operators were surprised that they got any business and then it was (assumed) that ‘Everything is fine.' But it isn't fine. A lot of our smaller operators, like the adventure tourism guys and all that, they didn't even open (last year). This year will be an important year and a rebuilding,” Grant Fiander said in an interview.
“I do think the ability of the region to keep COVID under control, and our reputation for being a safe place will serve us well, but as things get better in other places … the advantage will decrease over time as this levels out,” she said.
“I do think we have a window of opportunity … to really take advantage of that (our reputation) and certainly the success that we've had. So, the other thing with the Atlantic Bubble, and we don't pay attention to it, we rely on the Atlantic region anyway, significantly, and in 2019 it represented 63 per cent of the tourism revenues into the province. So, it's really important,” she said.
“We tend to talk about always the international part, which is important but you've always got to take care of your existing customers,” said Grant Fiander. “So, what I think this (Atlantic Bubble) did was made us realize how important the regional business is to the province. And the nice thing about the regional business is that you can get it more than once a year.”
She said the psychological effect of the pandemic is real. It makes sense that people, when they start to move, they want to stay close to home.
“A number of our operators last year talked about the business they had and how many people had never been to different parts of the province. They heard that a lot, and people rebooking and not understanding the product that was out there,” she said.
I contacted Tourism Nova Scotia for an interview but was told they would not provide anything beyond an email statement by Tourism Nova Scotia CEO, Michele Saran.
In the short-term, she said, Tourism Nova Scotia doesn't anticipate international visitors this year, certainly there won't be cruise ships, “but the return of the Atlantic Bubble gives some certainty for the industry.”
“Consumer sentiment research tells us that many people are not yet comfortable travelling long distances for leisure trips or vacations. Rebuilding consumer confidence will be a big task for the industry as a whole,” Saran said in her statement.
“Local and regional travellers—those within a short drive—are currently the people who are most willing to come here, and that's where we focused on our marketing efforts in 2020, and will continue to do so this year. We know other provinces are also marketing to the same audiences, so our focus is to demonstrate the unique experiences that set Nova Scotia apart,” she said.
In comparison to no bubble, the Atlantic Bubble was a boost for the tourism industry in Prince Edward Island, according to Corryn Clemence, president of Tourism Industry of Prince Edward Island.
“We get a lot of visitation from the Atlantic Provinces, the expenditures are generally less than what we would receive from (visitors from) other areas, about 60 per cent, but there is pretty highvolume throughput between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. And a little bit from Newfoundland and Labrador, but mainly Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. So, for our operators last year it was a nice bump to kind of get us through,” Clemence said, in an interview.
“We have a lot of operators champing at the bit, waiting for that bubble to open again,” she said. “Even if you look at each of our own provinces, we've kind of been forced to stop and take a deep breath and take a look around, enjoy and appreciate what we have in our backyard.”
Prince Edward Island welcomed 1.6 million visitors in total in 2019, Clemence said. “So, our infrastructure was built to accommodate that. And, you know, I don't think the solution is the bubble for ever but I do think the residual effect will be positive.”
Clemence said, each of the four Atlantic provinces are so different from each another “although, geographically, we are so close. To get out and explore Atlantic Canada, it is breath taking.”
Someone who is very familiar with the Nova Scotia tourism industry is Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
He pointed out that in 2019, tourism brought $2.62 billion into the Nova Scotia economy.
In an interview, Sullivan said that tourism in Nova Scotia fell back to an estimated $900 million in 2020, due to the pandemic. Tourism Nova Scotia is forecasting a slow return for tourism and a slight increase in 2021 revenues up to $1.2 billion if the pandemic subsides later this year.
“My only point here is that the province alone doesn't have the financial wherewithal to capitalize on the opportunity COVID-19 has created for Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, we continue to receive free positive press as a region for our handling of the pandemic,” he said.
“The World Health Organization (WHO) states that with ever-growing global population and ease of international travel that we are likely to see more pandemics in the future,” Sullivan said.
“Let's build off our province's positive moment in the spotlight to ensure our region capitalizes on this once-in-acentury opportunity to grow our population, our tax base and our economic future.”