P.E.I. tourism industry excited about borders opening early to rest of Canada

·3 min read
Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, says it will take years for his business to return to what it once was pre-pandemic, but he was still excited about borders opening earlier than expected. (Al MacCormick/CBC - image credit)
Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, says it will take years for his business to return to what it once was pre-pandemic, but he was still excited about borders opening earlier than expected. (Al MacCormick/CBC - image credit)

It was words like "thrilled," "emotional" and "optimistic" that were used Tuesday afternoon to describe how it felt hearing the news of easing COVID-19 restrictions on Prince Edward Island and speeding up reopening plans.

In just 20 minutes at a scheduled COVID-19 briefing, the province managed to shine a bright light at the end of what some say has been a long and windy road.

After more than a year of being shut to Canadians outside Atlantic Canada, Premier Dennis King announced P.E.I. would be welcoming them 10 days sooner than expected — now on July 18.

"I was very happy. We've had so much uncertainty through the pandemic. I'm not sure if we ever really know what to expect," said Corryn Clemence, the CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.

"This was very welcomed news."

'It has been a struggle'

The enthusiasm was echoed by the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"It has been a struggle. There's no question about it. This has not been easy for the business community," said interim CEO Nicole Bellefleur.

"So I know they're eager to see the rest of Canada come here in a way that is safe."

When the province first announced its five-stage reopening plan at the end of May, the premier said dates would be flexible.

Some said they kept their fingers crossed that flexible dates wouldn't mean delayed openings.

"The last 16, 17 months has been so difficult and ground-shifting," said Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, who was pleasantly surprised by today's announcement.

"I think it's a great day for Prince Edward Island and a great day for tourism."

It's never been a question about if we survive. It's going to be about how we survive. — Matthew Jelley, president Maritime Fun Group

The province also announced today that masks are no longer required for people sitting at indoor events like concerts and church services, though people still need to wear masks when moving around an indoor venue.

"I have to say that I got a little emotional, the whole idea that things are kind of slowly returning to normal," said Archdeacon John Clarke, rector of St. Paul's Church in Charlottetown, who's excited to see his parishioners' full faces again.

"I like to employ humour a lot in my sermons, not the sort of humour that gets big laughs but maybe just appreciative nods and smiles which you can't really see through the masks," said Clarke.

"I'm really looking forward to being able to see that reaction from the members of the congregation."

For those not quite ready to ditch the masks, Clarke said "nobody's going to be judged if they happen to decide to keep their masks on throughout the service."

Still work to be done

Even with the news that the Island may be returning to normal a little quicker than expected, those in the tourism industry said there is still work to be done.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"I think it's important to keep in mind that we've lost a winter and a summer already," said Clemence.

"Will this save the year and make things whole? I dont think it will make our industry whole again, but I think it's certainly a lot better than it had been."

Jelley said it will likely take years for his business to return to what it once was pre-pandemic, but he's holding on tight for the journey.

"From the start, it's never been a question about if we survive. It's going to be about how we survive," he said.

"But we're on the right side of this process and moving in the right direction."

For the time being, the three are thanking locals for their help and hope it continues even after COVID-19 is over.

"We wouldn't have been able to survive this long without the support of Islanders," said Clemence. "We're incredibly grateful for that."

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