Businesses in Nova Scotia’s tourism industry had been counting down the days to June 23 — when the province was set to reopen its borders to Atlantic Canada like it did last year with the implementation of the Atlantic Bubble — but 24 hours before that happened, the rules suddenly changed.
“Let’s not characterize this as the Atlantic bubble, because it’s not,” said David Hovell, owner and operator of the Magic Winery Bus Ltd. in Wolfville.
While last year’s Atlantic bubble allowed for free travel through the Atlantic region, this year there are restrictions. P.E.I. is only allowing in individuals who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and just 24 hours before opening to the region, Nova Scotia announced that it would be requiring travellers coming in from New Brunswick to isolate depending on their vaccination status.
Those in the tourism industry say the impact of that last-minute announcement was noticed immediately.
“The phones, sadly, were ringing instantly with cancellations,” said Megan Delaney, general manager for the Cambridge Suites Hotel in Halifax.
In a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Premier Iain Rankin says the last-minute decision was made because New Brunswick had unexpectedly decided to open its province to Canada, and Nova Scotia wasn’t ready to take on that risk just yet.
“That announcement was made last week. If they knew then that New Brunswick was allowing others in the province would mean the bubble could not happen, it should have been announced at that time,” said Delaney.
“What’s really disappointing is that it seems to be a blaming game between the two premiers.”
In Wolfville, the Magic Winery Bus is now operating for the season but Hovell says it’s frustrating trying to organize things and accept bookings when it’s still unclear when the rules for those in New Brunswick will be lifted.
“They say we’re going to reassess on June 30. What does that mean?”
Hovell says New Brunswickers typically make up a quarter of their guests each year and the current confusion over the rules could impact that.
“Those one in four guests are now asking, ‘Do I reschedule, do I delay or do I not come this season?'”
Hovell says the Atlantic premiers need to work better together, because while they are four separate provinces, the region is dependent on co-operation, especially those in the tourism industry.
“Travellers need to have confidence. They need to know that it’s easy for them to move in a region. What tourism customers are looking for is confidence and consistency, not the confusing and cumbersome restriction that we’re currently facing in Atlantic Canada.”
Both Hovell and Delaney are calling on provincial leaders and health authorities to better work together.
“Everyone is trying to look out for the best thing for their province or area when it needs to be looked at in a holistic way or regional view. We need each other, especially now,” said Delaney.
“There needs to be more consultation between N.B. and N.S. to come to an agreement on what moving forward together looks like.”
While Rankin said on Tuesday that he had not informed New Brunswick’s premier of the decision to implement self-isolation requirements for those coming from New Brunswick, on Wednesday he said he has been in discussion with the Atlantic premiers throughout the pandemic and those discussions will continue.