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With coronavirus restrictions in place, will the summer of 2020 be a dud?

Coronavirus: How to plan a summer vacation close to home
With travel still restricted in many places, summer vacations this year are going to happen close to home for millions of people.

Ontario finally announced the news parents had been waiting for, that summer camps will be allowed to open this summer. But how many accept the new mandatory guidelines handed down by the province is unclear.

“My wife and I made a decision almost two weeks ago that we weren’t going to operate our day camp,” says Howie Grossinger, spokesperson for the Ontario Camps Association and co-owner of Camp Robin Hood in Markham, Ont. “It would have resulted in our day camp looking very different than we’ve ever delivered.”

Some of the rules include smaller groups of kids and no busing, which Grossinger says wouldn’t work for him. Eighty per cent of his campers are bused in on a daily basis.

“The outdoor experience, the pool, the swimming, the instruction and, quite frankly, social distancing and the camp experience are just not compatible,” Grossinger says. “You know, we have four-year-olds to six-year-olds, a good population of those. Seventy-five per cent of my day camp population are under the age of eight.”

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READ MORE: Can I go to the beach or someone’s backyard? Here’s how risky summer activities are

How many camps will open remains unclear, adding to the confusion for Canadians looking for activities.

Ontario, for one, has amended its emergency orders to allow batting cages to open and drive-in theatres to start screening movies. But even though the province declares the framework for reopening, Beth Potter of Tourism Ontario says it’s up to municipalities and local health authorities to interpret the rules and ultimately determine what can open.

“We’re really working right now with the province, asking for some clarity around who has the ultimate say, whether business can open or not or whether somebody can leave their house and go to that business,” she says. “I mean, there’s no point in promoting tourism if nobody’s allowed to leave their home.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Ontario summer day camps might be allowed to open with ‘strict’ health measures

And in Ontario right now, there’s not much open. Tourism Ontario reports that 65 per cent of tourist businesses are closed and 35 per cent of seasonal businesses don’t think they’ll open this summer.

The tour operator Haunted Walks has offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston. On any given night in the summer, it has over 100 tour guides showing people the darker side of those cities. But even as Ontario has given the green light for many businesses to open, the city councils of Toronto and Ottawa have decided it would be too hard to physically distance on their tours.

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Travel Tips: A new experience at the airport
Travel Tips: A new experience at the airport

“The answer that we got was that we were in a grey area so that we would need to speak to our local bylaw and see how it would be interpreted and enforced locally,” says Haunted Walks founder Glen Shackleton.

Kingston has allowed the tours to operate, albeit with small groups of people who live in the same house.

Nationally, the impact of all the closures and uncertainty is expected to be staggering. Statistics Canada reports tourism was worth $80 billion to the economy in 2018. Of that, $30 billion came from international travellers who won’t be returning this summer and $50 billion from domestic tourism. But that number also assumes Canadians are travelling interprovincially.

COMMENTARY: Coronavirus will change the way Canadians travel

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Only Nova Scotia is open in Atlantic Canada right now, but as with Manitoba, visitors have to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving. Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. have closed their borders.

Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. are allowing visitors from other provinces, but while travel isn’t illegal, it’s discouraged. The Canada-U.S. border will also remain closed until June 21, and that date is likely to be extended.

Will parents be able to send their kids to summer camp this year?
Will parents be able to send their kids to summer camp this year?

Camping within Canada is an option, although only residents of B.C. and Alberta can use campgrounds in those provinces. One issue with camping is that bathroom and shower facilities will remain closed. And that opens the door — and the highway — to RV rentals.

CanaDream, one of the largest RV rental companies in the country, last week saw a 180 per cent increase in domestic rentals from this time last year. However, spokesperson Kathryn Munro says 90 per cent of their annual business comes from Europe so even with the domestic increase they’re far short of where they normally are.

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“There’s a lot of noise being made by people saying that RVs are sold out, the campsites are sold out,” she says. “It’s utter nonsense. You know, none of us are sold out.”