The 386-kilometre long Trent-Severn Waterway is the tourism backbone for Peterborough and the Kawarthas.
But it won’t be opening for the navigation season that usually begins with the Victoria Day long weekend. It’s now delayed until at least May 31 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a release from Parks Canada.
The federal agency, which operates the waterway, said it’s calling on Canadians to stay home and help limit the spread of COVID-19.
For communities that rely on the Trent-Severn, such as Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls and Coboconk, which are all in the City of Kawartha Lakes, the potential loss of summer tourism could be devastating.
According to numbers supplied to Global News by the City of Kawartha Lakes, in 2016, more than 1.6 million visitors explored Kawartha Lakes and spent more than $109 million.
“We have 30,000 seasonal people come here, plus more than a million day guests — some stay an hour, some stay days,” said Andy Letham, mayor of the City of Kawartha Lakes.
“It’s going to have a devastating effect on our economy and our tourism industry.”
Happy Days Houseboats, which is located on Pigeon Lake near Bobcaygeon, has had to deal with several cancellations lately due to the closure of non-essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Happy Days Houseboats has seen an increase of 300 per cent cancellations for May and June and is down about 50 per cent in bookings, compared to the years prior, owner Jill Quast said.
“Typically we’re fully booked for the May 24 weekend. The first wave of cancellations came from U.S. and international guests and then more on the provincial and local levels,” Quast said.
Quast is hopeful that eventually, the situation will get better and recreational boaters will be allowed to at least stay within lakes that aren’t affected by the lock closures.
All camping, group activities and events, at all national parks, national historic sites, heritage canals and national marine conservation areas, are suspended until May 31.
All visitor services and vehicle access by visitors, as well as the temporary closure of visitor facilities, will remain suspended until further notice.
“Like all Canadians, I love our national parks and historic sites, but at this time we must all continue to do our part to flatten the curve, look out for one another, and make choices that will help reduce the pressure on our health care system,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of environment and climate change and minister responsible for Parks Canada.
Peterborough & the Kawarthas Tourism is hopeful the region will bounce back post-pandemic.
“Early global travel data regarding the impact of COVID-19 is indicating that domestic travel will be the first to rebound, which is positive for Peterborough & the Kawarthas as 97% of our visitation comes from the Ontario market,” stated Tracie Bertrand, Director of Tourism at Peterborough & the Kawarthas Tourism.
“Data is also showing that it is likely that travellers will be seeking opportunities to relax, rejuvenate and to connect with friends and family again – of the 3 million visitors we see annually, approximately 1 million come here to visit friends and family. This is a much easier market for us to reach immediately and is an advantage for this region compared to destinations who rely on large numbers of international travellers.”
It’s working on a new 5-year Destination Development Strategy and Action plan.
“While the current circumstances are very difficult, we are in a very good position to build recovery into this plan. We know that the tourism industry has and will continue to be hit hard due to this pandemic and we are working diligently to build a plan that will help the region bounce back in a sustainable way,” added Bertrand.
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