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Saint John tourism sector holds breath with Nova Scotia travel restrictions

Saint John, N.B., business owner GayeAnn Walsh says she's willing to wait a little longer for the Atlantic Bubble to re-emerge.
Saint John, N.B., business owner GayeAnn Walsh says she's willing to wait a little longer for the Atlantic Bubble to re-emerge. Tim Roszell/Global News

GayeAnn Walsh is quite candid when describing how the COVID-19 pandemic has damaged her store, Walsh Luggage Ltd., in Saint John’s Market Square.

She said she gets 75 per cent of her business from tourists.

“I’ve worked for 37 years to build what I have, and I’ve lost it all,” she said.

She said she’ll be watching closely as new restrictions delay the reopening of the so-called Atlantic Bubble.

Read more: N.S. announces new border restrictions with N.B. on eve of Atlantic Bubble reopening

The bubble allowed residents of all four Atlantic provinces to travel freely from one province to another while much of the rest of Canada dealt with higher case numbers and travel restrictions.

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Nova Scotia announced Tuesday anyone entering its province from New Brunswick must self-isolate for varying lengths of time depending on each person’s level of vaccination. The announcement came on the heels of New Brunswick’s proclamation that it would reopen its borders to all Atlantic provinces with no self-isolation required, and to the rest of Canada with some isolation restrictions.

Even though fewer restrictions could offer Walsh a lifeline, she said she’s prepared to wait for her customers as vaccination rates rise.

Click to play video: 'Tourism expert talks Atlantic Bubble, reopening to Canada' Tourism expert talks Atlantic Bubble, reopening to Canada
Tourism expert talks Atlantic Bubble, reopening to Canada – Jun 22, 2021

“Give it a week or two, let’s see what happens before we go all hog-crazy and get back where we were before,” Walsh said. “Because we’ve been doing that for a year-and-a-half and our businesses just can’t stand that kind of rollercoaster ride.”

The Saint John region lost in excess of $100 million in tourism money in 2020, according to Envision Saint John CEO Paulette Hicks.

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Hicks said 2021 is trending slightly ahead of last year, but added the new Nova Scotia restrictions would not go unnoticed in the industry.

“I think all operators were looking forward to the full Atlantic bubble reopening and this will create some delay and displacement,” Hicks said. “So we know that there will be an impact, and certainly, even beyond just a tourism perspective. We know that families and friends are really craving to see one another.”

Hicks noted that the timing of the new restrictions may actually help minimize their impact in Saint John.

Read more: What you need to know as a modified Atlantic Bubble opens

It’s graduation week, a traditionally slower time in tourism.

Hicks said one Saint John hotel reported to her that it expected virtually no impact from the new changes, but that depends on the length of the delay.

The longer the Atlantic provinces have conflicting restrictions, the more tourism dollars are jeopardized.

Walsh said she’s hoping the wait will be worth it.

“The last thing I want to see is our borders closed, but it’s the only way that we’re going to get ahead,” Walsh said.

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