By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
PORT AUX BASQUES – The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant declines in travel in and out of Newfoundland and Labrador, which put great strain on the tourism and travel operators. With the restrictions lifted and life returning to a ‘new normal,’ the booking numbers at Marine Atlantic are finally moving in a more positive direction.
Darrell Mercer, Corporate Communications Officer, said that so far this year from Jan. 1 to Mar. 2, there have been approximately 8,000 new bookings in comparison with the 600 last year during the same period.
“When we go back to 2019, which is the pre-COVID period, we got approximately 3,300 bookings that were made during that same timeframe, so even comparing a non-COVID period with this year, we’re seeing in excess of double the amount that we would normally see. So we’re excited that this is going to be, hopefully, some type of return to normal of what we would see.”
Mercer said Marine Atlantic has also announced a discount campaign in partnership with the provincial government, a campaign they expect will entice even more reservations.
“Our discount campaign is targeting what we call a pre-peak period, so it’s a 22 per cent discount on both Port Aux Basques and Argentia for passenger and passenger vehicle fares. What it’s doing is it’s targeting the May 15 to June 30 timeframe.”
Mercer said that knowing there will be a lot of people travelling through July and August, they are trying to encourage people to come a bit earlier during May and June, just before the summer season.
“That will start to move some of that traffic around. There will be greater access to amenities on our vessels, but also the tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador would likely have more vacancy available that could cover any of those travel plans as well. It’s two-fold. We’re obviously hoping to generate new revenues and business coming out of two really tough years from a travel perspective, but we’re also trying to encourage people to travel to Newfoundland to help the tourism industry in the province as well.”
Mercer said that bookings generally increase during the summer tourism season and the return of the Argentia route.
“The booking timeframe that we’re looking at here is the summer season, so that’s Jun. 15 to Sept. 15, so that’s the commencement of the Argentia service, so anybody that’s coming home for summer travels, right now that’s what we are seeing as a big jump in bookings.”
Mercer said Marine Atlantic is very excited and hopeful that the province is moving out of the slower pandemic period and the impact it had on the industry as a whole, not just on the Crown corporation.
“When we look at the passenger numbers during 2020 and 2021, we were down over 50 per cent of what normal volumes would be, so that had a significant impact on our service. A lot of very difficult decisions had to be made during that two-year period. Our hope now is, looking at these numbers, looking at what the province is doing from the Come Home Year promotion, our discount campaign, we’re hoping to see some type of return that people want to travel again. We know there’s some pent-up demand. We know people have been very cautious over the past two years, but if we can start to see that return to normal, I think that’ll be great for our service but also the tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. We know they have really been suffering hard for the last two years as well with the lack of bookings due to COVID-19.”
Currently Marine Atlantic is also recruiting new staff to service its clients for the increased demand the spike in bookings has caused, and Mercer said the marine industry has been quite challenging from a staffing perspective over the last number of years.
“There’s some really in-demand professionals looking to fill positions globally, not just in Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s a global phenomenon. So when it comes to filling the staffing positions that we have on our vessels, especially the steward positions seasonally, we require a fairly significant number of positions. And, of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, we haven’t required as many steward positions as we normally would. With our hope of returning to normal this year, we’re certainly expecting to transport more customers and because of that we will require more steward positions to conduct the daily operations of our vessels. So that’s the reason right now we’re certainly trying to recruit those positions and that’s hopefully going to be fulfilled before the summer season.”