As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into a second summer, Nova Scotia unveiled its reopening plan on Friday. However, many, including those in the tourism industry, say the plan is anything but clear.
The plan has five phases. the first of which starts Wednesday and will allow restaurants to open patios, Nova Scotians to freely travel around the province and groups of up to 10 to gather outdoors.
It’s what happens after Phase 1 that some in the tourism industry say is confusing.
“It was a bit muddy — we don’t have a clear objective on what the province is trying to do,” said David Clarke, former president of the Hotel Association of Nova Scotia.
“Are we trying to open or are we trying to stay the course?”
Clarke says while other provinces have outlined dates for when they expect to move through their own phases, Nova Scotia has not done that. Instead, Nova Scotia says switching phases will be based on epidemiology and vaccination rates, with the expectation that we will progress through phases one through four every two to four weeks.
“I think we need to get in alignment with the other provinces — at least in Atlantic Canada — and then align with the other provinces in Canada and most of those provinces are providing dates.”
Clarke says without a clearer picture of when we’ll enter what phase it can be hard for businesses to prepare and hire staff, but it is also hard for Canadians to plan any visits to the province.
We’re sitting in a holding pattern, people from away are not going to book until they have a sense that we’re open. We need to open,” said Clarke.
“Canadians are booking vacations right now and they could end up in other provinces and we don’t want to miss our chance.”
Tour companies like Ambassatours are gearing up for the summer, hoping it will be a busy season to help make up for some of what has been lost over the past year. Ambassatours CEO Dennis Campbell says they are already getting reservations, including some from those outside the Atlantic Provinces, but with no clear information in the reopening plan on when or if Nova Scotia plans to drop its 14-day self-isolation rule before Phase 5, it’s difficult to know if they can accept them or not.
“We have to say to them ‘we can’t actually guarantee that you can tour,’ we’re saying it’s possible it might happen.”
Nova Scotia has been among the strictest provinces in the country in terms of COVID-19 rules and Chief Medical Officer of Health Doctor Robert Strang has called our reopening approach “slow and cautious.”
But there is still optimism for what this summer could bring.
Darlene Grant Fiander with the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia says while specific dates are ideal, operators understand they’re not always realistic.
“The reality we’ve been in for 14 months, the terrific news is that Nova Scotians can travel now.”
Grant Fiander encourages all Nova Scotians to travel locally this summer to help out businesses that have been struggling through this pandemic.
However as the industry looks ahead, Grant Fiander does admit that inconsistency between provinces — especially those in Atlantic Canada — can be a challenge.
“When you think about the travel trade sector trying to put packages together for the region and there are different guidelines for every province that’s not a good thing.”
Both Campbell and Clarke say they’d like to see the Atlantic provinces work together on better aligning rules and regulations and coordinate the reopening of the Atlantic bubble like they did previously.
“I can only imagine as a visitor wanting to come here — how do they figure out when they could come? It’s just not clear,” said Campbell.
As the province does move through phases and slowly reopens, tour operators are also calling on the province to encourage travel within Nova Scotia. New Brunswick recently announced it would be incentivizing travelers by offering Atlantic Canadians rebates of up to 20 per cent on eligible travel purchases in the province including food, and accommodations.
“I think it’s a really wise program and I think Nova Scotia would be very wise to do the same,” Campbell said.
A statement from the department responsible for tourism says that Tourism Nova Scotia is ready with marketing campaigns to encourage people to come to our province. They note “we have no plans at this time to introduce a similar program” to that of New Brunswick.