For the past several years, business at the outdoor Café-Terrasse La Nouvelle-France in Old Quebec has been booming. It experienced record years in 2017 and 2018, but this season, the restaurant has chosen to close its doors.
“The whole business at the Nouvelle-France is predicated on 20,000 people walking up and down the street,” said owner, Kevin Quinn.
But those tourists aren’t coming this year. With the Canada-U.S. border closed, American tourists are not vacationing in Old Quebec.
However, sanitary restrictions give less reason for local tourists to venture into this area.
The city has limited the number of painters who can showcase their work in the famous Artists’ Lane, just in front of the restaurant.
“Where normally there are 39 artists on the lane, they are now allowed four, so the magic of the street is no longer there,” Quinn explained.
“If there’s nobody in the hotel rooms, there’s nobody on our terrasse. It’s really that simple.”
Quinn said he doesn’t know when the restaurant will be re-opened.
“I’m getting ready for May 2021 and I’m doing it sort of halfheartedly because I’m not sure it’s going to be open. We’ll see, but if there’s no vaccine, it’s not going to be open,” he said.
Close by, the Clarendon — one of Canada’s oldest hotels — is also feeling the effects of COVID-19 on tourism during what should have been one of its busiest seasons.
2020 marks its 150th anniversary.
“It was catastrophic because it was supposed to be our best year of our lives at the Clarendon,” said general manager and co-owner, Marc-Olivier Côté.
The hotel was forced to close in 2019 due to a fire and it took 12 months to finish renovations. It was finally able to open mid-January, before closing again due to COVID-19.
“2018 was a record year for us and we were expecting 2019 to be even better,” Côté explained.
“Unfortunately we were closed due to a fire, and now 2020 was supposed to be even better, but there’s a pandemic, so it’s really sci-fi — we’re living a sci-fi story right now.”
He also added that the financial strain has become a major stress.
“It’s terrible. It’s going to be many years before we catch up,” he said.
According to the Quebec City tourism office, hotel occupancy rates were between 25 and 35 percent in June, when normally they would be between 90 and 100 percent.
In July, occupancy went up slightly to between 40 and 50 percent.
The tourism office director, Benoit Pigeon, said he expects the numbers to pick up a little more in the fall, but that won’t be enough for all businesses to survive.
“We hope for the best, but it’s inevitable that we’re going to lose some players,” he said.
However, Pigeon is trying to focus on the positive side of things.
“It’s an opportunity for tourists…from Quebec, from Montreal, from Ontario to come visit us and have a little more balance between being crowded in a city and being able to enjoy it,” he said.
One visiting father from L’Assomption, Quebec said he appreciated that the streets were less busy.
“It’s a good thing for us. We have more space and the restaurants are less crowded,” he said.
Another mother from Boucherville decided on a day trip with her family to the province’s capital, as they are not yet comfortable staying in a hotel. She said she was surprised more Quebecers aren’t doing the same.
“It’s a little disappointing that more people aren’t taking advantage of something so close to home that’s super safe if your outdoors, especially,” she said.View link »