Prior to the summer of COVID-19, the PEI tourism industry had been on a roll.
Each year eclipsed a record set only months earlier and reaching the one million mark in terms of visitors was the rule rather than the exception. When the year began, 2020 was on pace to continue that trend. New direct flights had been announced from Hamilton and Calgary into Charlottetown. The Canadian Folk Music Awards were slated for the capital in April, meaning an early kick-off to the season.
Then the pandemic struck in full force and tourism operators went from having their fingers crossed for a good season to doing the math in an effort to figure out whether it would be financially feasible to open their doors. Those new flights are a pipe dream now. Like most airports around the world, Charlottetown is virtually deserted as non-essential travel has been curtailed.
That national folk festival has been postponed to next year, proving to be one of the first entertainment options to be cancelled. Since then the list has been growing by the day. Virtually every entertainment and community activity both residents and visitors have embraced as a part of summer is on hold until 2021. In eastern PEI, that list includes such popular events as the Show and Shine car show, Village Feast, Dundas Plowing Match and the Northumberland Fisheries Festival just to name a few.
There is now talk of creating a tourism bubble between PEI and New Brunswick that would allow visitation between both provinces without the need to self-isolate for 14 days. Currently, neither province has any active cases. At some point, that could be extended to Nova Scotia, provided our sister province is able to keep up its efforts at reducing community spread.
Premier Dennis King has also indicated out-of-province cottage owners will eventually be allowed to return to their properties if they promise to self-isolate. As long as the self-isolation rule is in place, that will preclude any short-term visitors, since they would have to stay inside for two weeks when they arrive and likely be forced to self-isolate again when they returned to their home province.
A number of operators have decided to gear their marketing efforts to Islanders, as it looks like for the beginning of the season, the only option for those seeking to get away from it all is having a “staycation.” There are certainly worse places to be restricted to-- don’t forget that in a “normal” year, over a million people choose to come here. However, our small population means it is virtually impossible to sustain an industry on Island traffic alone Most years, visitors from our sister Maritime provinces do make up the largest block of visitors in terms of numbers, but not in spending, since their stays tend to be shorter.
However, the big concern will be the lack of entertainment and activities, especially on rainy days. Outdoor activities like beaches, golf, walking or cycling don’t tend to be as appealing in a downpour. Hopefully, the 2020 tourism season will happen in some form with the hope of better days ahead in 2021.