Nova Scotia hotel chain says occupancy down 90% because of COVID-19

Occupancy is down about 90 per cent at a Nova Scotia hotel chain because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is transforming how staff carry out their day-to-day duties.

Thierry Surette, general manager and director of hotel operations for Hearthstone Inn, which has locations in Dartmouth, Sydney and Port Hawkesbury, said visitors are now mostly made up of corporate clients.

"We've had to completely change how we do things," he said.

On Monday, the Nova Scotia government announced 13 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 41 in the province.

Hearthstone has laid off 75 per cent of its staff, running with just the bare essentials.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Surette said hotels have had to completely change how they operate.

At Hearthstone properties, common areas such as pools and fitness centres are closed, food service has been reduced to brown-bag breakfasts of pre-packaged foods, and guests are encouraged to remain in their rooms and to make their own beds. Rooms are cleaned only after guests check out, at which point they're thoroughly sanitized.

"Basically everything has to be cleaned with disinfectant, every part of the nightstand, every part of the telephone, lampshades, lamps ... so we've gone from the time of cleaning a room being 30 minutes to over an hour," said Surette.

Hoteliers across the province and beyond are following the advice of public health organizations and learning from each other as things evolve, said Surette.

"Everyone seems to be really moving quickly and being proactive as much as possible," he said.

Hearthstone has also limited guest stays to five nights.

"We don't want to become a place where people come to [self] isolate because it's simply too much of a risk for our staff," said Surette.

Surette declined to comment on what COVID-19 will mean for Hearthstone, but Destination Cape Breton has estimated the cost of COVID-19 to the island's tourism economy at approximately $95 million — and that's assuming things return to normal by the end of June.

The Tourism Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) is in the process of surveying businesses across the province to gauge the immediate impact on the sector. The organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.