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Tourism season bodes well despite gas prices

The MV Highlanders enters Port aux Basques harbour. Despite the hike in gas prices, Marine Atlantic ferry reservations are still higher than pre-pandemic levels. – © File photo

By Jaymie L. White

Special to Wreckhouse Press

PORT AUX BASQUES – Rising gas and fuel prices has been a thorn in the side of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, especially over the last few months, and concerns have been raised online and in the media about the potential impact on tourism.

Darrell Mercer, Corporate Communications Manager for Marine Atlantic, said there have been a number of cancellations, but the reservations have seen an overall significant increase as well.

“We have seen some cancellations. What people are telling us is that the price of gas, obviously, has impacted some of their travel plans, so we are seeing cancellations, but at the same time we are seeing a significant number of bookings. When we look at a comparison, year over year, in 2020 and 2021, with the pandemic our booking numbers were really low. However, when we look at Jun. 15 to Sep. 15, which we consider our summer season, in comparison to 2019, which is the last pre-pandemic year, we had approximately 10,000 bookings to around this timeframe in May. This year we’ve got over 22,000, so we are over double where we were in 2019.”

Mercer said that so far it seems like the desire to travel is still evident in the number of ferry reservations.

“Customers that are phoning in and making a cancellation because of – a lot of people are saying the price of gas – while we are seeing those cancellations, we are still seeing significantly more bookings as well. So people are still planning to travel, and whether it’s because they haven’t had an opportunity to travel over the last couple of years and they want to get home and see their family, whether they’ve got extra money available to allow them to travel this year because they haven’t been able to travel these past couple of years, we are seeing significant interest in travel this year.”

Mercer said these numbers can always change so it is something Marine Atlantic will certainly continue to monitor.

“It’s going to be something that we’re going to be watching over the next few weeks because we are still out, three weeks out, from what we consider the start of the summer. So we don’t know if we are going to start to see more of those cancellations, but we are not anticipating it right now with the number of bookings and new bookings that we are seeing every day. It certainly seems like people are coming home to celebrate the Come Home Year activities. And again, when we look at 2019 and compare it to this year, over double the number of what we saw back in the last pre-pandemic year, it bodes well for the tourism industry this summer.”

Mercer said, unlike with bookings, it’s hard to judge the number of cancellations and whether that has seen a significant increase in comparison to previous years.

“We get a number of cancellations every year for various reasons. When we ask customers their reason for cancellation, the one we’re getting this year that’s a little different from previous years is that the price of gas is just too high. When you look at where gas was a couple of years ago and compare it to now, it’s quite significant. It’s difficult to do a year over year comparison of that, but the bookings themselves are much higher than what we’ve seen in recent years, and that’s the piece we’re going to be watching.”

Marine Atlantic has a fuel hedging program in place where they pay a fixed rate on fuel purchases, and as a result, they haven’t had to pass on extra fees to customers because of the almost continuous rise in fuel prices across the province.

“We haven’t had the need to pass along those increased costs to customers. It’s actually sheltered us a little bit from the market. What the future holds, that’s something everybody is looking at to see what happens with the long term price of fuel, but right now we don’t see any need to pass along those additional costs to customers,” said Mercer.

Rebecca LeRiche, owner of Star-board Side Guest House on Caribou Road in Port Aux Basques, said it’s difficult for her to judge the number of reservations and cancellations this year because her business only has pandemic years to compare this year to, but her numbers are looking positive.

“I bought my place two weeks before COVID hit and I don’t have a ‘normal’ year to compare to. Reservations are up by at least 50 per cent from last year though. Some guests tell me they haven’t gone anywhere in two years, so they have money saved and though gas is expensive, it’s not stopping them. Other guests are very happy with our free cancellation when reserving, as they are worried that they won’t be able to afford the gas when they finally do travel.”

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