After the removal of two years of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, many Nova Scotia tourism businesses are seeing pent-up demand like never before.
"It's like fitting three seasons into one because the last two seasons have been almost non-existent," said Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours and the Cable Wharf Kitchen Patio Restaurant.
He said bookings are 20 per cent above previous records for the 34-year-old company — and they're coming much earlier in the season.
Campbell said the pandemic shined a light on supporting the local economy, leading Nova Scotians to discover gems around them.
Before the pandemic, tourism was a $2.6-billion industry in Nova Scotia, but dropped to around $1 billion per year in 2020 and 2021.
Joe McGuinness, co-owner of Legendary Hospitality Group, which has four pubs and restaurants in Halifax, said he is already receiving calls from Americans to host conferences in September.
"[The last] two years have been horrendous, to say the least, in the hospitality industry, but I have to say that early indications were that it was going to be a very strong year," said McGuinness.
But there are challenges. Campbell and McGuinness are both experiencing culinary staffing shortages after many workers left the industry during the pandemic. McGuinness is in the process of bringing international workers to help with this.
Eva Kroger and her husband have owned and operated the bed and breakfast Star of the Sea in Fergusons Cove for 11 years. The home sits by the Atlantic Ocean near Halifax and was closed in 2020 and had a modest 2021.
"I have never been booked up like this ... at this early in the year," said Kruger.
She said the business was already 90 per cent booked for the season by January.
Kroger said she's hearing from other bed and breakfast owners in the area that demand is high.
She said many people have been staying at her place to look for property in Nova Scotia.
"People are shocked when they come here," she said. "They do not realize how beautiful Nova Scotia is."
Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said tourism was limited last summer because the U.S.-Canada land border was closed for a good chunk of the summer.
But with the reopening of the border and the recent removal of pre-arrival COVID-19 testing, the Atlantic provinces are seeing more American visitors driving to Canada, she said.
"That's made us even more attractive as a destination to Americans," she said.
Rebecca Milligan and Halik Milligan are from New Jersey. They recently visited Halifax with their son. The family hopped on a cruise excited to have Atlantic lobster for the first time.
"We've definitely always heard of Halifax as an old fishing village and how beautiful it was, so we really wanted to experience that," she said.
Liz O'Carroll and her husband have owned and operated The Pebble bed and breakfast for 28 years. Located near the Northwest Arm, the Halifax business was closed for the past two years. Demand has been so high this year they've brought on extra staff to keep up with the bookings.
"It's going to be wild," said O'Carroll.
MORE TOP STORIES