Tourism operators prepare for uncertain season

By Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
May 20 2020

SHEET HARBOUR – As summer approaches, tourism businesses and organizations are making plans for the unknown. With variables such as border crossing still up in the air, they’re mapping out the tourist season with more questions than answers.

“Tourism is critical to the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia,” says Ed Empringham, president of the Sheet Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce. “In view of the COVID-19 restrictions, it is likely that tourism will be significantly reduced this year. We will be dependent on ‘staycation’ travellers for the most part…Summer festivals, reunions and other events will be cancelled which will reduce the draw.”

“The Chamber is responsible for MacPhee House and is awaiting provincial announcements about Visitor Information Centres in the province to know if or when it will open,” adds Empringham.

Empringham says business owners need to be aware of federal, provincial and municipal programs that may help them. “The Sheet Harbour and Area Chamber of Commerce participates in the Atlantic Chambers which helps collect resources for our members,” he notes.

Molly Gammon, chair for the annual Moser River Days event says, “Our committee started planning for our 45th Moser River Day last July. We have many things planned and would be ready to proceed in a heartbeat. However, we just learned from HRM that the hall cannot take any bookings as yet. We will wait and see if we can have Moser River Days later in the year. If that is not the case, will adjust our plans accordingly.”

Regarding potential tourists visiting the Moser River area, Gammon says all local businesses and several organizations rely on tourist money one way or another. “Heritage Museum as well as the Seaside Park in Moser River are two examples, as students also rely on summer employment with them. All our crafters, who place their homemade treasures in various stores and craft tables will be affected. Our campgrounds and small businesses (operating) from their homes will also be affected.”

Due to the nature of some businesses, they have been able to continue to sell their product. “We consider ourselves lucky here, at Sober Island Brewing, as we have continued to operate during this pandemic,” say owner Rebecca Atkinson. “The future is very unknown, but we do our best to gauge how our province will reopen. I am planning for the taproom to be able to have customers (maximum of 10) enjoy our space and products by the middle of June. If the Province allows it, we will be ready to open.”

Atkinson says she is looking at everything from minor to major changes to the space to ensure consumer and employee safety. Anticipation of re-opening brings excitement to the business owner, who says it would bring on two new members of staff. “Currently it is just myself and Tim MacLeod, the brewer. We will continue to do delivery and shipping as we have throughout the pandemic.”

The restrictions brought on by the global pandemic have opened ways for the company to get product into consumers’ hands with a new level of convenience for them. “It’s been a constant race here to innovate and adapt with such a small team and our rural setting,” Atkinson told The Journal in an email interview. “But we have had a lot of fun with it and we are definitely looking at more ways to engage the local community and the rest of Nova Scotia as it becomes permitted.”

President of the Sheet Harbour and Area Heritage Society, Wendy MacKenzie, says she does not know what the summer holds for the museum. “Right now, the MacPhee House Museum is not open for the season yet and I did post that it would not be opening until further notice. Heritage also postponed its summer events for now.”

MacKenzie has been innovative with her grant applications for summer students. “On the upside, Heritage did apply for two summer youth and I have not heard back as to whether I got them or not.”

If approved, the new hires will have a changed work environment. “I have been in correspondence with the program and have adjusted things so the museum summer staff can all work from home on heritage projects and communicate via computer, phone and emails until which time we are able to work at the museum.”