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EDITORIAL: Bigger problems facing Newfoundland and Labrador's tourism sector

<p>Photographers from Vancouver shooting a blue ribbon iceberg near Tizzard’s Harbour in May 2016.&nbsp;</p>
Photographers from Vancouver shooting a blue ribbon iceberg near Tizzard’s Harbour. - Contributed

It’s a short-term fix, it’s much needed, but in a way it carefully ignores the elephant in the tourism room.

Monday, the provincial government announced short-term funding for tourism operators in the province. The $25-million Tourism and Hospitality Program will offer either $5,000 or $10,000 in non-repayable working capital grants to small and medium-sized tourism businesses, with the grant size depending on gross sales.

This is how the government describes the offer: “This short-term program will help enable operators cover some of their business costs. This support will provide immediate financial relief to operators who are dealing with substantial losses and continued fixed operating costs, providing support as many in the industry prepare to re-open.”

It’s needed and necessary for an industry that’s worth $1.14 billion in visitor spending, and has a limited season that’s rushing up on operators quickly.


How broad is the footprint of the tourism and recreation industry? Yesterday, the provincial Environment Department issued its regular news release on the province’s environmental assessment regime. There were five projects mentioned: one was a quarry, but all of the others had tourism links. One was an ATV and snowmobile trail being built by a snowmobile association, two were cottage developments and the fourth was a 188-unit RV park and campground.

“This new short-term program will provide operators with support they need to get back on their feet and better position them to re-open as restrictions begin to ease,” Premier Dwight Ball said in the news release announcing the new program.

But now, the elephant.

One of the biggest problems for tourism and hospitality businesses trying to wend their way through the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is what their industry is even going to look like, and whether the necessary changes to how the business works will be possible in enterprises that are operating within tight margins.

Restaurant owners, for example, will likely have to serve fewer customers, reducing sales revenues. At the same time, things like dishwashing methods may well have to change to reduce the risks for both staff and customers.

Grants of $5,000 and $10,000 won’t do much to help that. But it is a start.

Tourism operators will also have to beef up their housekeeping to protect against potential infection spread — to the point that there might be lost guest nights.

Both will have additional costs in terms of personal protective equipment and other supplies needed to keep staff safe.

And on top of all of that, there’s the question of whether or not a significant portion of the population will even have the disposable cash to consider vacations this year.

Finally, the entire world of tourism may be undergoing a fundamental change — one that, for a while, keeps many vacationers off planes and ferries for several seasons into the future.

Grants of $5,000 and $10,000 won’t do much to help that. But it is a start.


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