If you’ve been following the political coverage in the Maritimes recently, you’d have seen considerable coverage of the challenges faced by the tourism industry both within the region and, more specifically, here on Prince Edward Island.
Problems in the tourism industry aren’t unique to P.E.I. nor the Maritimes. Having said that, the outsized impact of this tourism turbulence on the local economy differentiates the sector’s importance to our province’s bottom line compared to the experience of other jurisdictions.
Last week, we saw the Government of Nova Scotia announce commercial property tax forgiveness for tourism operators, and the Official Opposition leader in P.E.I. press the government for its own immediate plans to support the sector in these trying times.
Next week, the federal government is set to deliver an economic update where we can reasonably anticipate direct support announced for the tourism and hospitality sector. At this time when policy shapers are looking for new ways to generate economic growth — particularly for the struggling tourism and hospitality industry where some businesses are reporting revenue losses between 61-100 per cent — there is ready-made opportunity to spur longterm growth and diversification that helps offset the losses we’ve experienced due to COVID-19.
That opportunity comes from the legalization of cannabis.
Three years after the federal legalization of cannabis, Canada has yet to harvest this new sector for the economic opportunity it presents. With a little creative thinking from policy makers and some red tape reduction, the Government of P.E.I. has at its fingertips an opportunity to diversify its tourism offering and expand its pool of prospective tourists.
How could P.E.I.’s tourism and hospitality industry, which has been hammered by the pandemic, be facilitated into the cannabis industry?
Undertaken responsibly, visionary policy changes such as those that have been consulted on in Manitoba can create an entire new revenue stream associated with both domestic and international cannabis tourism.
Restaurants could offer guided cannabis culinary experiences without the presence of alcohol, where non-combustible, cannabis-infused delicacies highlight Canada’s Food Island for its agri-food specialties.
Lounges could offer consumers with dosage controlled, non-combustible infused products and beverages in a manner similar to how alcohol is served at bars in all communities across the country.
Major events such as conventions, sports and concerts could accommodate age-gated pop-up cannabis retail and consumption zones, offering safe and responsible adult consumption of a legal product in a manner similar to how alcohol is sold to attendees at outdoor concerts and hockey games.
The opportunities are endless. We just need politicians who are creative enough to see them, and decisive enough to take action.
Today, a majority of the provinces and territories already operate with a private retail model for cannabis, a model that can be used as a guide for the licensing of consumption lounges. Licensing for retail operations and lounge zoning can be developed quickly by replicating the existing model for special liquor licenses.
With news emerging that mRNA vaccine candidates from leading pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna have shown 90 per cent efficiency in clinical trials, the time to act is now so that policies are in place to support the industry as soon as vaccines have been distributed throughout the world and travel can begin to return.
Canada sits at a crossroads as the first G20 country to have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes. With the COVID-19 economic recovery underway, now is the time for some creative thinking on how to infuse P.E.I.’s tourism and hospitality sector with some new life. Whether it be curated cannabis culinary experiences, infused spas, or cafes and lounges, it would be exciting to see P.E.I. become a responsible world leader in this nascent sector.
Serious consideration can and must be given to how we can support our tourism and hospitality industry through special event licences and licensing of consumption lounges. Together, we have an opportunity to build a stronger, more diverse tourism and hospitality sector in our province for both today, and tomorrow.
Jon Dugal is an account manager with Diplomat Consulting. Previously, he was a fundraising adviser for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and a campaign adviser for former N.B. premier Brian Gallant.