In a normal year, the Harbour Hopper would already be a regular sight on downtown Halifax streets, but this year, signs are being posted saying the season will start on July 1.
The delay is due to federal restrictions on passenger vessels due to the coronavirus. Once running again, the amphibious bus tour will be one of just a handful of tours being operated by Ambassatours this year. The company also runs a large number of tours catered for cruise ship passengers, but with no cruise ships coming this summer, that won’t be possible.
“Unfortunately, that division of our company won’t be operating at all this year so that’s about a loss of about 250 seasonal jobs, so it’s disappointing there,” said Terri McCulloch, communications manager for the company.
It’s just one of many hits to the tourism industry.
“It’s been incredibly challenging for our industry to face this and see how we’re going to come through on the other side as costs continue to mount but there’s no revenue coming in,” said Steve Denty, chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador.
Denty says financial aid like the federal government’s wage subsidy program has helped many businesses keep on employees, but it’s not enough. The subsidy expires at the end of the summer, and there are still many fixed costs to businesses, including insurance, rent and utilities, that are difficult to meet if no income is coming in.
“All the measures announced so far are short-term solutions. What we’re facing is a long-term crisis.”
It’s why many in the tourism industry in Atlantic Canada are calling on provincial governments to ease border restrictions.
“We think the time is right now to take more creative measures to get people travelling around our individual provinces, but certainly right now through an Atlantic Canada bubble and hopefully soon across Canada,” said Denty.
“That’s the only real way we’ll see any growth for our industry or make things sustainable for our businesses.”
The four Atlantic premiers have been having discussions around an Atlantic bubble but so far no date has been set. Premier Stephen McNeil has said he hopes to open Nova Scotia to the entire country around mid-July, but that an Atlantic bubble is the first step.
But even if that happens, many people will likely be hesitant to travel and it will take time for the tourism industry to bounce back to what it was pre-COVID-19.
“I think there’s opportunities for governments to talk about different credits in terms of taxes for businesses and individuals travelling that could be used,” said Denty.
In the meantime, tour operators are working their best to salvage whatever tourism season they get this year. McCulloch says Ambassatours is focusing on things that appeal to locals, such as the wine or craft beer cruises aboard the tall ship Silva, deep-sea fishing tours, and, of course, the Harbour Hopper.
The company is also adapting things to ensure people are safe. The Harbour Hopper is currently being outfitted with plexiglass barriers between seats and the Silva is being divided into sections so groups can each have one part of the ship while staying two metres away from other groups.
“We feel that if we have something that people feel they can comfortably and safely enjoy, that folk will be interested in coming out for those,” said McCulloch.View link »