Whale watching tour operators in St. Andrews, N.B., are gearing up for their most challenging season yet.
Some companies have already been forced to cancel bookings amid COVID-19 and are now trying to figure out how to salvage the season.
“It’s been the biggest hurdle this business has endured for sure in 26 years,” said Melissa Ryan, who owns Fundy Tide Runners.
Ryan said she was supposed to open on May 15 but she is still trying to navigate how to alter its operations to meet COVID-19 regulations. The company operates its tours using Zodiac speed boats which seat 12 people closely together. That makes it difficult to adhere to calls for mandatory physical distancing, she said.
“We are trying to find the safest way to provide our trips and adhere to social distancing,” she said.
Ryan said that her tours are meant to be up close and personal and since she can only fit two people in a Zodiac at the required two-metre distance, doing so just wouldn’t be profitable.
She could require guests, not in each other’s bubbles, to wear masks but that may not be practical, she said.
“I haven’t personally yet tested how well a mask would stay on moving in a speed boat across the Bay of Fundy,” said Ryan.
Ryan said that most of her clients come from Ontario, Quebec and the U.S.
“We have lost a huge pool of our clientele,” she said.
So, for now, she’s focusing primarily on encouraging New Brunswick family and friend bubbles to charter the entire vessel.
Quaddy Link Marine is in a similar boat. The company was approved by Transport Canada to start running larger tours on July 1st said owner John Eldridge. But the tour operator will only be able to host about half a shipload, which is about 20 people while maintaining social distancing, said Eldridge.
“We will probably have a shorter season so we will get through this one. But it is certainly not sustainable from a business point of view,” he said.
Both operators are hoping an Atlantic bubble is coming soon so that vacationers from across the region can hit the water.
But Eldridge says it won’t make up for the lack of national and international tourist traffic, he said.
“We do a lot with the cruise ships in the fall and of course we have lost all of those,” he said.
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