Minutes - COVID-19 Recovery Meeting Accommodations - April 23, 2020

The Prince Edward Chamber of Commerce, The Picton BIA, and The Municipal Business & Economy Task Team, in cooperation with the Municipal Community Services, Programs & Initiatives Department, have partnered to bring more coordinated resources to the business owners of Prince Edward County during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Part of the strategy to provide resources, and to have a line of direct contact with the business community, is a series of Industry-Focused Meetings which will take place via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10am.

COVID-19 Recovery Meeting: Accommodations Sector, April 23, 2020

Panel of designated speakers included:

Beth Easton, representing STAs

Davelle Morrison, representing STAs

Rick Conroy, Inns and large commercial properties

Norah Rogers, Inns and large commercial properties

Karen Orme, B+Bs

Fred + Lena, Edgewater B+B

Jamie Forrester, Long Point Cabin cottages and campground

Mike Harper – Councillor – Thanking everyone for joining in and advised we have 7 panelists. He advised that we are very aware that the Accommodation sector has been hit very hard, possibly one of the hardest. We are looking for input to pass on to other government levels to effect recovery. Our quest is to have a panel discussion for 60 minutes and then open it up for a discussion for 30 minutes following. Advised that people can email or put questions in the chat window. Let’s get started. Our panelists: for STA’s – Beth Easton, Davelle Morrison, Inns/Motels – Rick Conroy and Norah Rogers, B&B’s – Karen Amaro & Fred & Lina Colucci, Cottages and Campgrounds – Jamie Forrester. We have Sarah Doiron from the Picton BIA, Lesley Lavender from the PEC Chamber, Trevor Crowe from the County and Phil St-Jean from Council.

Mike H – 1st question – looking ahead what are the top issues that you are facing in your industry? Let’s start with Beth

Beth E. – we need really clear guidance from the County about what STA operators are to adhere to. Mixed messages and anxiety as a result. Really clear guidance around cleaning would be useful.

Rick C. – Newsroom Suites - I look at the challenges in 3 broad buckets:

  • Our season is short – not sure if the sector has enough to endure 2 years of losses
  • Staff issues – if staff disperses, how do we get them back
  • Some people see this is an opportunity to slow down tourism

Karen A – Runaway Rooster B&B – we all want to salvage the season and we want protocols that are consistent across the sector and we need clear consistent guidance

Davelle M – Mary Street Guesthouse - We need clear consistent cleaning protocols, also the messaging that comes from the County needs to be positive about tourism. As a sideline, when you talk about social distancing, when I look at Sandbanks Provincial Park will there be restrictions on how many people can be there, etc.

Fred C – Edgewater Bed and Breakfast - obviously the sanitation issue and when guests leave if they know what they are to do. Is there an opportunity for the County to provide guidance for us to inform our guests. Once the province opens the parks there will be tourists here and how will that be handled?

Norah R – The Waring House - We have 49 rooms and 2 restaurants. She thinks the protocols for in room cleaning are clear and that will take extra training for staff and that will be challenging. The cleaning of rooms and safety of the staff will be essential. She has been discussing issues with about 300 other accommodators and she feels the info coming will be good.

Jamie F – Log Cabin Point - He has been talking to a lot of groups out there. Concern for us is the time frame moving forward. We are fully booked from mid June to September right now. For us it is the uncertainty, the cleaning can be handled easily with best practices. For us its when do we get going and how do we do it safely

Mike H – I heard a lot about cleaning protocol – is it straightforward or is clarification needed?

Karen A – We are all very diligent cleaners but I think it needs to be stepped up. If the county could help by doing workshops to inform people

Beth E – She feels that some accommodators do not regard this as a business and she encourages that all STA operators need to be held to the same accountability as all roofed accommodations. She says the cleaning is not well supervised. It’s really important that we ensure this level of safety with cleaning.

Mike H – so staffing issues – do you want to talk about this Rick?

Rick C – it’s already been a struggle in PEC before this. The concern I have is that we lose a chunk of the season and we lose the staffing then bringing it back together again will be a huge challenge for our sector. The issues of housing and affordability will be key.

Norah R – There are challenges with the funding from the government. Our staff are keen to come back because they are worried that they won’t have a job. She thinks the CERB is good and the wage subsidy will be good.

Mike – You as a B&B owner, living on the property – what are the concerns that you have and how do you feel you can operate safely and effectively?

Fred C – We have 3 rooms and once the house is full it is full. Concern is do we want to have all the guests come at once. We are considering how many people can be in the house at one time so that they feel safe re: social distancing. 2 of our rooms share a shower – will guests be worried that they are sharing a shower? Do we close off one room when it is rented? Alternatively, do we rent the whole house only to people who know each other?

Karen A – Safety is paramount for our guests and the owners, while the B&B is an intimate setting, you have a lot of control over that setting. There is a lot you can do inside your home to ensure social distancing, moving furniture, etc. You know your guests before they arrive so you can advise your guests prior and upon arrival.

Mike – STA’s – what is your concern?

Davelle M – If the County could be sourcing sanitizer and wipes that would be great. She would like some consistency for ideal time between guests to clean – she has heard 72 hours from some B&B associations, they would like some clear guidance from the County on this.

Beth E – She has 2 STA’s – a whole home one and a suite in her home. The suite in our home – she doesn’t know if she will continue to rent it due to her own concerns and health issues. In terms of the whole home STA – it is just down the street from where we live. It is important to me to communicate with our neighbours what we will be doing. Re: cleaning – it has been discussed that there could be a certification of cleaners – so that the owners and cleaners are accountable.

Mike – Social distancing – how will that be an issue for Cottages and Campgrounds Jamie?

Jamie F – there are areas of their property that will probably not be open. He doesn’t feel that the County will have much of a say and that it will be mandated by the province. He doesn’t think the County will be able to pull those sanitizing products to give to people. We are all business owners, we will have to look to how we individually meet the guidelines.

Mike H – if there is something that we feel we can communicate to the government we want to hear it. Rick, is there something that you can say to social distancing in your operation?

Rick C – I don’t see it being an issue for my situation as there are no real common areas. His key concern is the messaging that comes from our group, our community and our municipality

Mike H - #1 concern with messaging?

Rick C – there is the generic issue of tourism being blamed for things. I don’t know what the messaging will look like. One of the obvious opportunities is that for quite awhile now people in urban centres have been cooped up so he thinks there is pent up demand for our area and we should look to take advantage of that.

Mike H – Acknowledges the strained relationship between STA’s and locals – especially with the current situation. From a messaging standpoint – what is our view of this and how do we address this situation?

Beth E – We just had a great example of tensions rising where there was inconsistent messaging on what the STA’s were supposed to be doing. The Mayor then gave a clear message to the public which assisted in easing some of the tensions. Once the communication was going we saw some reduction of tension. Once there was more leadership and consistent messaging and advising that there was some accountability.

Davelle M – It’s a bit of a challenge since there is a bit of an Us vs. Them. I had a call from the OPP that we were renting but we have a property manager who lives onsite. Marketing messaging around tourism needs to be positive for the County since it brings so much business to the County.

Norah R – Consistency and the messaging that these are responsible businesspeople and she feels that it will be important or people will not do things appropriately

Karen A – In looking back over the last month we can take a lesson in how the County handled the STA messaging. It was unfortunate that the messaging had to be so aggressive because it riled people up. The messaging that tourism is great needs to come from the Mayor and it needs to be just as aggressive as the other messaging was.

Fred C – Definitely consistent messaging is key. We are still going to have people coming here even with events cancelled. They will want to visit the wineries, etc. It will be the County’s job to make sure people know that we are open for business and that it is safe. Also it is not just on the County and other organizations to make people aware of who we are and what we are doing. It is on us to inform our neighbours and to show them what we are doing and how we are contributing to the community

Jamie F – He thinks this is a difficult complex situation to comment on. It’s going to come down to every business deciding on how they will operate. I don’t really have an answer for that cause I don’t have a time frame.

Mike H – Back to Rick – anything you want to add regarding how messaging should be conducted?

Rick C – All the comments are good and sound. The notions mentioned by Karen and Davelle, this opportunity is for us to share our issues with the County. The message that they gave which is that the messaging from the County be consistent and how tourism benefits all of the community.

Mike H – We have 10 minutes left. Let’s talk about the customer – do you think this will be a hard sell or will they flock back here? Beth?

Beth E – My impression, based on the communication with our guests who had booked, was that they were really looking forward to coming. We know that people want to drive and we are an obvious destination. My sense is people want to come back and will be coming back when they are able to. We therefore really need to be prepared to communicate to the people who want to come and give guidance.

Davelle M – she feels people will be coming in droves because they won’t be able to take a plane. She thinks the issue will be if the Quebecer’s will be allowed to come? And if not will the Ontarians make up for that void?

Mike – With B&B’s is the kind of accommodation that you are offering going to be affected

Fred C – he says there is a particular type of guest who visits B&B’s and he says that they have indicated to them that they want to come. He expects once they open up the bookings will come, and then it will be up to us to decide how many can come. We really are not sure yet how we will broach this.

Karen A – We are going to be the #1 staycation destination. It will be how we approach it, safety first. Yes a B&B is a smaller place but it is an experiential experience. I think B&B’s (with protocols in place) will be in a good position.

Norah R – she thinks we will be busy but because they do events and those have been cancelled they won’t be as busy. She thinks a coordinated approach will be important to inform guests for everything they will want to do in the area.

Mike – STA’s – there has been some suggestion of limiting the number of people in the home, thoughts on this?

Beth E – I think there will be transparency from STA operators. Some operators have suggested that there be limits – what she says to that is that it has to clearly be a request or a way to enforce it to avoid issues.

Davelle M – Weddings have been cancelled so bookings from groups have cancelled. We will probably get some stagettes which is not so great. She thinks that it will be a challenge because they do not always know who is coming

Mike H – Who do we allow to come here? How do we feel about people from the U.S., Quebec, etc.

Rick C – We are part of an ecosystem – a coordinated approach is important. Messaging will be important. In terms of your question Mike – I’m afraid I have to turn it back around and say how do we regulate that?

Mike H – The question is: is it an issue or is it not?

Davelle M – I don’t think our borders will be open to the States so she doesn’t think it will be an issue. Then will the border to Quebec be open? And will the border be open to Europe? She doesn’t think so

Norah R – She doesn’t think the borders will be open

Beth E – She thinks we have to be really cautious with this to not point the finger and increase public hostility. We have to be so careful about this when we welcome people back and not identifying any group as other or as higher risk.

Mike H – Susan Wallis – your thoughts on the conversation? And Richard Barrett

Susan W – Away in the County B&B - I’m concerned about the welcoming of our guests when they come, re: community reaction. I’m concerned about attitudes from STA operators – she thinks if you are approached and you are not doing anything wrong then you should not take offence to the questioning.

Richard B – Chair of PEC Accommodation Association – I’ve heard a lot of good things here. Clear messaging from the County is important. Cleaning is important. We need to make sure that our guests are advised of protocols and are made comfortable. We need to know what will be available for guests arriving.

Kathleen & Chris – The Manse – Except for this meeting there hasn’t been a lot of communication between all of the accommodations. If we are going to come out with a set of guidelines for cleaning, etc. she feels that there needs to be cohesive communications – everyone needs to be doing the same thing no matter the size of their STA. I do want to discuss the stigma of people coming to the County and accommodators opening up to them. When guests will be coming in to these places – some kind of acceptance of a safe environment and communicating that to them will be very important. Transparency will be very important. Guests need to know what to expect. Re: Quebec visitors – we can’t discriminate. The borders probably won’t be open so it won’t be a consideration.

David G – Goodmanor B&B – We have no problem with social distancing since both of their suites are separate and do not mix. I don’t understand why the Accommodation Industry and the County have not bound together to help in purchasing sanitizer and cleaning products in bulk. Re: Quebec – he thinks one of the factors will be if they have health insurance or not and the possible strain on the system if they don’t.

Nancy P – Wilfred Boutique Farmhouse B&B – I agree that as soon as we get messaging from the Mayor it has more power. If we could get some messaging to put in the rooms from the County to advise our guests – she thinks that will add more reassurance.

Karen A – 2 things, quickly – re: the guests, whether the borders are open or closed she doesn’t think that matters. Someone from Toronto could bring the virus. In order to salvage something of 2020 – the shoulder and winter seasons needs extra promotion from the County.

Edward Schubert – Used to own and run Merrill Inn and is part of PEC Accommodation Association – we remember the SARS days and we experienced decreased occupancy and it was a big deal that impacted travel to PEC although a lot of it was in Toronto and this is global. We have seen a large increase in European visitors. He is a part of the PEC Accomm. Assoc. and they have been collecting the MAT voluntarily and this money has been used to promote tourism in the area. He listed off members of the association and their board. We did this MAT initiative because we knew it was coming. Anyone who wants to join can join. In preparation for the MAT – whenever it comes into effect. They believe it will likely come into effect in January 2021. The accommodator charges the guest the 4%. 2% will be utilized by the municipality and 2% would be used to promote the area. A lot of things won’t happen yet because people won’t be able to get here.

Jens - Fronterra Farms Camp – we are concerned if we open about how that will affect the community. Clear messaging is important and cleaning practices are hard to keep consistent between businesses. He thinks we will be in this for a long time. A community divided is the worst thing. There needs to be a test or an assurance that visitors themselves are safe. Insurance validation, testing validation may be needed. Yes we have to be welcoming to visitors but we could use this issue to differentiate the County. We have to look at the bigger picture – people are keen on coming to our accommodation but we feel that the 2020 season is off and the 2021 season may be off. The expectation of a recession and the issues that has for the community are a concern. I am scared to open less I am responsible in any way for causing transmission of the virus. A two part re-opening with guidance is needed.

Suzanne Lafrance – Moonlight on the Lake B&B – it doesn’t matter who comes into our home because we will both be at risk. I don’t understand the 72 hour break for cleaning between guests as it isn’t a high traffic area like grocery stores and they do not have that break. The key issue with guests is that we are the ones who direct them to other businesses. We all need to know the protocol for other businesses to advise our guests. I have a private entrance for my guests and I will try to have the least physical contact with them in order to control the situation. If and when guests are allowed. I agree that it will be people coming who can drive here. It would be great to encourage guests to stay 2-3 days to have less people coming through the area.

Mike H – Thank you all very much . I know it is difficult to have a session like this with a large group. I just want to address 1 thing that Rick addressed. We are very aware that all the industries are inter-connected and we will take that into account when we are reviewing the issues. Please feel free to email myself, Sarah, Lesley or Trevor. Thank you for your time.

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