Betting on the bubble: Maritime airports, hotels, hopeful for return of Atlantic tourism
HALIFAX -- It seems some Maritime businesses are starting to bet on the return of an Atlantic bubble later this spring.
Last week’s announcement that the Atlantic bubble is set to reopen on April 19, has several airlines and hotels in the region preparing for an uptick in travel demand.
Just over a year ago, Halifax Stanfield International Airport saw about 200 flights per day.
Now that number is down to about a dozen, but a few more flights are being added back.
“What we’re seeing now is airlines are starting to load up their summer schedules in anticipation of the potential for more travel going forward as more Canadians are vaccinated,” says Tiffany Chase, spokesperson for Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
On Wednesday, WestJet Airlines announced the airline will return service to Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, Sydney and Quebec City, beginning in late June, after service was halted in November 2020 in response to the decline in demand for air travel as a result of the spread of COVID-19.
WestJet will also resume its St. John’s to Halifax route, with flights six times a week, beginning May 6.
The flight resumptions and their planned restart dates include:
- May 6: St John's – Halifax (six times a week);
- June 24: Charlottetown – Toronto (11 times a week);
- June 24: St. John's – Toronto (daily flights);
- June 26: Fredericton – Toronto (daily flights);
- June 28: Quebec City – Toronto (daily flights);
- June 28: Sydney – Halifax (daily flights); and,
- June 30: Moncton – Toronto (daily flights).
WestJet officials say they encourage the premiers of Atlantic provinces to advance their efforts to ensure the area is open to visitors from other parts of Canada by the summer.
"Alongside an accelerated and successful vaccine rollout, we are hopeful that there will be an easing of onerous travel restrictions currently in place," said Ed Sims, WestJet president and CEO, in a statement released Wednesday. "We look forward to working together to safely reconnect Canadians to the region in the coming months."
By May, Air Canada is expected to offer another daily flight between Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., and two more daily flights between Halifax and Toronto.
Porter Airlines had also suspended its flights but has announced a tentative restart date for May 19, with details to be finalized once a return to service date is decided.
“I think they are making a bet but it’s a relatively smart bet to make because most of the airlines now and offering flexible change policies for their customers,” says Lorn Sheehan, Professor of Strategy at Dalhousie University.
Currently, the only direct flights from Halifax go to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or St. John’s.
That means passengers travelling internationally like Mibin Benny, have a longer journey to reach their destination.
“From Halifax to Montreal and Montreal to Doha and Doha to Kochi. That’s India,” says Benny.
His journey home from Sydney, N.S. to India was made even longer – a four hour drive to be exact – because flights from Sydney to Montreal aren’t an option anymore.
“It’s a painful thing, you know,” says Benny.
When the Atlantic bubble opens, Ron Miller is headed to Newfoundland.
“The first flight I can get home after being away for a year will be welcomed,” says Miller.
But as the general manager of a Dartmouth hotel, Miller is welcoming flights for both professional, and personal reasons.
In anticipation of an uptick in travel demand, Maritime hotels are also preparing for an influx of visitors.
Miller says calls at the hotel have increased by 100 per cent after the bubble was announced last week.
“The switchboard lit up the first day and we were taking a lot of reservations for the 19th of April and onward,” says Miller.
Back at the Halifax airport, uncertainty remains
“With travel restrictions that are in place such as the 14 day isolation period when you arrive in Nova Scotia, it remains very uncertain how many people will actually even choose to travel even after vaccines,” says Chase.