N.L.'s seasonal tourism industry suffering amid COVID-19 pandemic

Meg Roberts/CBC

Tourism operators in the Newfoundland and Labrador who cater to visitors from away are facing an uncertain future as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit travel in countries around the world.

In some towns, like Twillingate, seasonal tourism is the main industry and the repercussions of a practically nonexistent season could devastate operators and the community from which they draw their employees.

Barry Rogers is the president of Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours, which takes tourists on boat tours from two locations, St. John's and Twillingate.

The long-running business usually hires 50 employees for the season. Currently, the company's three full time employees are spending their days answering questions and concerns from people who had pre-booked their tours.

Rogers says this year things look quite different for him.

"Normally in the month of March and April we are on the dry docks and the marine centre is getting our vessels ready for the upcoming season," he said. "Right now we're just waiting to see what's going on here."

Rogers said it's too early to tell how badly this season will hurt his operation.

"We're seeing a change in our bookings for the early part of the season, which would be May and June," Rogers said. "But yet, not significant [change in bookings] further down the road." 

Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours is a member of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, a not-for-profit membership association that acts as a liaison between tourism operators and the provincial government.

Rogers credits the group for doing a "fantastic job" in keeping its stakeholders informed on what's being done to help them on a daily basis.

Not 'business as usual'

Steve Denty, chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, released a video statement addressing the COVID-19 situation over the weekend.

"We are monitoring the situation closely as we work to ensure the sustainability of our vital industry," Denty said in the statement. "Naturally the health and safety implications for employees and the guests we serve is paramount."

"And we've all been studying best practices and listening to the advice of health professionals as we navigate this global pandemic."

Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador/Youtube

The video statement went on to say that it is not "business as usual" in the tourism industry, acknowledging the potential for months of challenges ahead. Denty says Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador has been in constant communication with the government and other industry experts to find solutions.

"Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador has done a few things to curate all of the information that these resources have provided," Denty said in the statement.

Denty commended the federal government for their help so far, with actions like changes to employment insurance, but made it clear more assistance is needed.

"Unfortunately, many of the businesses represented by Hospitality NL will not be able to survive with this current level of response."

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