Skyrocketing gas prices leave Cavendish, P.E.I., tourism operators struggling to find staff

Business owners in P.E.I.’s largest seasonal resort area are hoping for a busy summer following two years of COVID-19 restrictions — but many are struggling to find staff for the upcoming tourist season.

Cavendish, on P.E.I.’s North Coast, is known for its white sand beaches, coastal trails and campgrounds. It’s the home of Green Gables Heritage Place, the site that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels.

It’s also about 40 kilometres outside Charlottetown, and the region relies heavily on mostly young seasonal staff as the unincorporated community’s population swells by the thousands in the summer months.

But with the price of gas hitting record highs on P.E.I. — the minimum price at the pump for a litre of regular gasoline rose to $2.108 Monday night — those seasonal jobs are getting harder to fill.

“Gas prices — it’s like our number one excuse of why we can’t get staff right now,” said Mya Welton, who manages the COWS ice cream store at Avonlea Village.

Cavendish is a rural unincorporated community with a small year-round population. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Welton herself drives 30 minutes to work, and says the increasing cost of gas crosses her mind daily — especially as a student carrying loans.

“I’ve been here for six years … when it comes to it, it’s like, [the owners] need staff and I want to help out as much as I can.”

The store’s owners have increased wages, she said, to help sweeten the deal for potential employees over the summer, but she hopes tip money will help offset the commute, too.

Negotiating wages

Tourism is key to P.E.I.’s economy, and it’s gearing up for a busy summer. Now that the Island has finally reopened, businesses are hoping to make up for tourism dollars lost during the pandemic — and they’re even more desperate to hire the staff they need. 

Peter Fullerton, property manager at Avonlea Village and Cavendish Boardwalk, says there was no choice but to raise wages to keep quality staff. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Peter Fullerton, property manager at Avonlea Village and Cavendish Boardwalk, says he’s raised his wages this year, too.

“We had to come up with something,” he said. “With gas prices rising, being almost 50 per cent higher than they were last year, we certainly thought … to get quality people here, we were going to have to pay more.”

Fullerton says cleaners, gardeners and maintenance staff will all make an extra $1.50 an hour this season.

Captain Scott’s Fish and Chips — another Cavendish spot that just opened for the season — is still in search of a cook.

Owner Tom Donovan understands the rising cost of gas can be a challenge, especially since most of his staff are university students.

He’s increased staff wages $2 per hour this season to help offset the cost of commuting in order to hang onto his employees while he can.

Tom Donovan, owner of Captain Scott’s Fish and Chips, understands the challenges his staff members are facing. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

“I find that we’re going to have to pay them more … and I’m good with that,” he said.

“We’ll offer an extra dollar or two an hour to get them out here because I understand it’s expensive to drive down here every day.”

Donovan is just one of many seasonal business owners on the Island hopeful for a strong tourist season — and a drop in gas prices.

In addition to drawing Anne of Green Gables fans, Cavendish is known for its white sand beaches. (Tracy Lightfoot/CBC)
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