By Ole Hammarlund, MLA Charlottetown-Brighton
Official Opposition Critic for Tourism and Culture
This has been a very difficult year for PEI’s tourism and cultural industries. It looks like 2021 may not be much better, as both businesses and visitors typically make vacation plans well in advance. This advance planning is almost impossible when restrictions can change with little notice. Even if the coming COVID vaccine is rolled out this spring, the summer of 2021 will still be a difficult season for tourism.
Our tourism industry is three times larger per capita when compared to other provinces. 1 out of 10 jobs on PEI are a part of this sector. Some businesses have had to close for the season, and even the ones staying open have seen, at best, 50% of normal activity.
What the tourism industry is saying
We have talked to TIAPEI, Discover Charlottetown, and other industry players. While there has been help forthcoming, from both federal and provincial sources, this help has not been anywhere near enough. CERB mostly covers people who can demonstrate regular salaries in the previous year. This means a lot of casual or new workers are not covered.
While loans are offered, many businesses simply cannot afford to take on new debt, especially with no foreseeable stable income as a result of COVID measures being taken. Thankfully, the province has continued its annual support to many cultural institutions, but these funds do not allow them to hire their usual summer staff or put on events that meet restrictions around attendance.
Even the Minister of Tourism, Growth and Culture admits this help does not fill all the gaps and industry members themselves have said “our tourism industry is on life support.”
We are pushing for a vision
However, there are things that can be done. Here are some of the actions our caucus has taken in the legislature in the past year to help:
- Last year we highlighted complaints about the sorry state of parks and campsites.This year there was a robust amount of funding for capital repairs.
- We have repeatedly asked for faster implementation of high-speed rural internet services and it appears that extra efforts have been made just recently to speed up implementation and to include local providers, who were originally excluded. These plans include wi-fi at all campsites.
- We presented Mitch Underhay’s petition for a bike pathway across Hillsborough Bridge and construction of this new active transportation route is now underway with planned completion this spring.
- Our motion on sustainable tourism was tabled and presented, but has yet to pass as it was “talked off the floor” by government members. We expect to continue work on this motion in the spring sitting of the legislature.
- Another critical motion to establish an active transportation network was tabled by the Leader of the Official Opposition Peter Bevan-Baker and we are looking forward to starting debate when the House opens again.
- This fall we tabled and passed a motion that encourages Islanders to support local businesses during this difficult time.
Government needs to do more than react
This summer, the Atlantic Bubble helped a bit, but started too late for a real summer season. When it is safe to do so again, we know that the Bubble can work. But we need to do more than just open the border. Government must put in more work to properly market the Island as a safe and exciting place for people in the Maritimes to visit, while also ensuring Islander’s feel safe to welcome those visitors. Even then, Atlantic Canadian tourists simply cannot simply fill the gap left from all the other tourists not allowed to get here.
There appears to be no plan from the government to rectify this situation. It is not only a question of helping businesses, organizations, and individuals to survive this season and next. We also have to ensure that when we reach 2022 and regular tourism hopefully resumes, that we have a full slate of quality services, events and staff to offer them.
The Official Opposition will continue to listen to and advocate for our province’s vital tourism industry as it navigates these unprecedented challenges.