The travel industry has taken a massive hit because of COVID-19, and the impact is being felt emotionally as well as financially.

Griffen Stuckless

Lori Goodyear sits at her kitchen table in her Deer Lake home as she talks to her grandson Josh over video chat.

“How are you doing, bud?” she asks.

“Good, Nan,” he replies, lying down on his bed with a hockey stick across his chest. “But I really miss hockey.”

Goodyear was supposed to watch Josh play hockey after he flew in from Labrador for a tournament in Corner Brook on April 14. COVID-19, however, had other plans.

Bringing with it a plethora of health hazards and disruptions, the novel coronavirus has shut down all manner of trips, tournaments and travel plans.

Josh’s hockey tournament is just one of the many cancelled events the province has had to endure. Joining these cancelled events was also Goodyear’s granddaughter Brooklyn’s figure skating competition, which was set to take place in St. John’s on March 27.

Between the two tournament cancellations, Goodyear will miss two opportunities to spend quality time with her grandkids, who live away in Labrador City and whom she doesn’t get to see very often.

Even if she wanted to take a flight to Labrador to see her grandkids, flight traffic at Deer Lake airport is nearly non-existent, according to Cameron Soucy, the ramp manager of Allied Aviation.

Allied Aviation manages all the WestJet and Air Canada ramp-side operations in Deer Lake – meaning it is responsible for getting passenger planes off the ground and in the air. From the moment a plane touches down to when it takes off, Allied Aviation is responsible for the craft and its cargo.

“All my staff are laid off, so when those cargo planes or medevacs come in, it’s up to me to get to it. Seven days a week.”

– Cameron Soucy, Allied Aviation

However, during these times when the world is on lockdown and the threat of the coronavirus remains an important focal point of our news, no passenger flights are currently being allowed to land at or depart from the Deer Lake airport.

“Canadian air traffic, as you know, is operating at two per cent now of what it was operating at last year,” Soucy said. “There’s no flights for us – there’s no Air Canada; no WestJet. The only thing we really get is cargo planes and medevacs.”

On top of this reduction, even if a flight were to have to stop at the Deer Lake airport for some reason, Soucy is alone in servicing them.

Cameron Soucy at his office at Allied Aviation in Deer Lake, Newfoundland.
Cameron Soucy works alone in his office at the Deer Lake Airport. With all of his staff laid off, he acts as both manager and a one-man ramp crew. Griffen Stuckless/Kicker

“All my staff are laid off, so when those cargo planes or medevacs come in, it’s up to me to get to it. Seven days a week,” he said. “I’m a one-man operation, with all the challenges that come along with that.”

According to publicly available statistics, even a larger airport such as the Halifax airport is moving only 200 to 300 passengers per day as opposed to its normal spring average of 11,000 passengers per day.

A grinding halt

St. John’s and its airport are also feeling the impact of COVID-19.

“It has a huge impact on the tourism industry,” said Mayor Danny Breen. “A huge impact in particular on hotels, restaurants, bars – every facet of the industry.”

Kicker News · The New Normal: St. John’s mayor optimistic about restarting city’s economy

Breen also says that the restrictions are hurting St. John’s businesses and economy.

“Everything has been really brought to a grinding halt,” he said. “It’s a case of the economy has just been turned off, and now we’re in the process of turning it back on.”

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It’s not just businesses in St. John’s that are feeling the effects of COVID-19.

Hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other tourism lodging businesses throughout the province are suffering too.

Janis Jones, owner of George’s Lookout in Dildo, says her calendar has gone from “booked steady,” to “a mess of X’s” because of cancellations.

“This year I only have one person left, and I had bookings last year for this year that were for weddings, mostly. We know now they can’t come, so, of course, they’re all cancelled,” Jones said.

Janis Jones, owner of George’s Lookout in Dildo, says her business has been hit hard by cancellations due to COVID-19. She’s had to dip into her retirement fund to pay bills for her Airbnb. Patrick Newhook/Kicker

“It’s a shame. I wanted to retire and do this – have something to do, meet people, things like that,” she said.

Jones says the government hasn’t helped independent Airbnb’s owners. The many cancellations have forced her to dip into her retirement fund to keep the Airbnb afloat.

“I don’t know why, to be honest, we are not being helped by the government. It seems like everybody else out there is getting help – I paid my taxes,” she said. “I worked all of my life, 24/7.”

With independent businesses that provide essential lodging for Newfoundland’s tourism industry going through financial hardship, it seems like it will be harder than ever for Newfoundland’s tourism industry to bounce back.

However, despite the restrictions and hardships surrounding the travel industry, some people remain optimistic about travelling in the future.

Person walking through departure gate at St. John's Airport
A lone passenger at the St. John’s Airport. Not many are using the departures gate during this time. Kyle Curtis/Kicker

Goodyear, for example, says the coronavirus won’t stop her from flying and that she’s going to rebook the cancelled events as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of people who says they’ll never travel again, but I will,” she said. “They’re scared, but I’m sure that flights like these and big hotels are not going to go ahead until they get a vaccine anyway. So that won’t stop me – it’s the same as after 9/11. Things just slowed down a bit. When I’m able to travel again, I will.”

While Goodyear was reimbursed with travel credit for any booked flights and refunded for any hotel bookings, not everybody is so lucky.

Kicker’s Kyle Curtis interviews two families about how their travel plans have been affected by COVID-19. It turns out some are facing difficulties with refunds or reimbursements.

Leah Gale, for example, booked four concert tickets for her family to a Luke Combs country concert and is now stuck with them despite the event’s cancellation.

“They cancelled his concert until October, so as of right now his concert is supposedly still going to happen, but I would say they’re going to cancel it ’til 2021,” she said.

With the future being so uncertain and no end to COVID-19 in sight, Gale and her family are stuck with the tickets until further notice.

“Right now we still have these tickets for October. I’m assuming if they reschedule his concert again, it’s going to be some time next winter and you’ll just use the same tickets,” she said.

Gale is not optimistic about the prospects of the concert but, much like Goodyear, she remains hopeful about travelling in the future.

Empty St. John's Airport
The St. John’s Airport’s floors shine brightly. It’s a telling detail of the lack of travellers.
Patrick Newhook/Kicker

It’s very likely COVID-19 will have long-lasting effects on the travel industry from now on, and concerts, gatherings and sporting events will likely have to adapt to work with these new restrictions.

Leah Gale, however, is certain about one thing. “The minute that we’re allowed to travel and COVID has a vaccine or whatever, I will be goin’ – somewhere. I just don’t have it booked yet, because there’s no point to book right now.”

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