New Brunswick's hotel industry is trying to navigate a new normal as the province eases into the third stage of its COVID-19 recovery plan later this week.
In March, hotels across New Brunswick were closing and laying off hundreds of workers because of the pandemic. Now some are slowly starting to reopen despite the many empty rooms still available.
"It's not easy and it's going to take time," said Pooja Rajmohan, director of sales for the Algonquin Resort in Saint Andrews.
The New Brunswick hotel closed at the end of March and reopened to guests last week.
Although the hotel saw bookings over the long weekend and a few for the upcoming weekend, Rajmohan said they're still in the "single digits" throughout the week.
But guests have been respectful of physical distancing rules and washing their hands at the hand sanitizing stations dispersed throughout the hotel.
"It's cautious enthusiasm," she said. "They want to go out but they know things will not be the same."
The Algonquin has also seen a number of wedding cancellations from May into September, most of which were from outside the province. Rajmohan wasn't sure of the exact number of wedding cancellations but said they were "in the double digits."
We're not laying down and going away. - Jim Gertridge, Rodd Miramichi River Hotel
Right now, the hotel doesn't know when they will be able to hold large indoor weddings of up to 150 people again.
"I feel bad for the brides and grooms because they've planned for so long and now they have to re-plan," she said.
The hotel's new normal also consists of taking employee's temperatures before coming to work. And having a thermometer on hand at the front desk for guests.
Even the changeover of rooms looks different.
Staff aren't allowed to clean a room until two to three days after a guest leaves, to prevent putting employees at risk.
Then, a new guest can't stay in that particular room until at least seven days later.
The hotel is also trying to get as many staff as they can to return to work, while continuing to follow the guidelines set out by public health.
This might include some staff members taking on two or three new responsibilities while working at their old job.
"Multitasking would be the new normal."
And since most of their business comes from outside the province, she's worried about the upcoming summer tourism season — especially since New Brunswick borders are expected to remain closed to outside visitors.
Rajmohan said she would support New Brunswick sharing a bubble with Prince Edward Island, who also doesn't have any cases. That way it would support tourism industries in both provinces.
She compared it to the current travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
"It's a safe bubble."
Making guests feel safe
Jim Gertridge, general manager of Rodd Miramichi River Hotel in Miramichi, said the hotel plans to reopen July 1. And some calls for reservations have already started to trickle in.
"We're not laying down and going away," he said.
Gertridge said the hotel plans to follow a number of health measures to make sure guests feel safe. This includes eliminating the amount of furniture in the hotel lobby, allowing staff to wear masks and requiring cleaning staff to wait 48 hours to clean a room and change their gloves four times while cleaning a room.
"When guests return, we want them to feel safe."
He said many other hotels in the Miramichi area are open for business.
"They're out there fighting to make a living," he said.
COVID-19 prompts worry for hotel business
Carol Alderdice, president and CEO of The Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick, said her organization has been working with New Brunswick tour operators to lead local vacationers to different areas of the province for two to three days. This will help hotels and small business owners gain some of their business back and help the economy.
Over the summer months, the province typically sees tourists from Europe, China, Maine and provinces like Quebec and Ontario.
But since New Brunswickers are especially proud of their low case numbers of COVID-19, she's hoping that pride will continue for at–home tourism
"Everybody's trying to survive over the summer," she said.
Corporate hotel turned resort
Sarah Holyoke, general manager for the Delta Fredericton is coming up with creative ways to attract more New Brunswickers to come stay at the hotel.
This summer, the hotel will be known as the Fredericton Resort.
"Typically we're a corporate hotel so we're going to transition into a leisure hotel," she said.
This will include all-inclusive activities, more children's activities for families. Next week, the hotel will also be opening a drive-in theatre.
"For us, that's the only way we're going to be successful," she said. "We need to create a reason for people to come to Fredericton."
The Fredericton hotel hosts national, regional and provincial conferences and sees mostly guests working on business across Atlantic Canada and Ontario.
Some of those events have been cancelled all the way up to January 2021.
But she's hoping hotel regulars and New Brunswick tourists will bring business back to normal this summer.
"We're going to rely heavily on New Brunswick travel this year."
The Delta Fredericton plans to reopen mid-June after closing at the end of March.
"We came in and the phones just wouldn't stop ringing with cancellations," she said.
"And at that point I knew things were going to change for us really fast."
And she's trying to get all 165 of her employees back to work as soon as possible — even if it might be in a different job. This could mean cleaning staff working at the drive-in movie theatre.
"If we get New Brunswickers supporting us, we will be able to get those employees back."