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Saskatchewan tourism businesses moving outdoors, adjusting amid struggling industry

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WATCH: People are turning to outdoor activities and Saskatchewan’s struggling tourism operators are adjusting as they find ways to adapt to the changing landscape – Mar 24, 2021

As Saskatchewan thaws, people are getting out and making plans for the summer, helping the province’s struggling tourism industry keep on its feet amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to Tourism Saskatchewan.

Jori Kirk owns Treeosix Adventure Parks in Waskesiu and Cypress Hill. His business is all about close connections — literally.

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The company leads zip-lining tours, electric fat bike rentals and other outdoor activities. Before the pandemic, groups would fill small platforms between zips.

“In the past we could put our hand on your back and say ‘Hey it’s going to be okay’ or be able to give a little kid a high-five or something,” Kirk told Global News.

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The company has had to make changes to how it does business. One huge change is the number of people they could take on one tour.

Where Kirk used to take multiple groups on one big tour, he is now limited to smaller groups to keep everyone distanced.

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Shaping Saskatchewan: Tourism Saskatoon CEO Stephanie Clovechok – Feb 19, 2021

Treeosix also built on to its platforms to give more space between people. While he said customers like the closer attention, smaller tour groups have put a dent in his bottom line.

Last year, the company only made around 60 per cent of its revenue compared to before the pandemic.

“For me, specifically, the restrictions handicapped me so bad and handcuffed me,” said Kirk, adding demand for his business was about the same as past years, and he knows other outdoor business owners who had the best financial year of their lives.

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“I couldn’t capitalize on that demand based on the restrictions that were one my business.”

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Kirk said he’s hoping that with people used to the new normal and fewer restrictions, things will pick up.

Meanwhile, Brenda Cheveldayoff has had to change a lot at the Doukhobor Dugout House heritage site, just outside Blaine Lake. The heritage site does reenactments from the late 1800s.

“We see probably 300, maybe 400 people on a tour day visit so with that I wasn’t allowed to have tours, we had the close down,” Cheveldayoff said.

For now, the business has started offering self-guided tours of the grounds.

Tourism Saskatchewan told Global News outdoor attractions are on the rise, and operators across the province are adjusting and adapting. It said the industry lost around $1.7 billion in revenue last year.

It’s encouraging people to support local businesses and explore where they live.

Read more: Summer staycation: How Saskatchewan is faring for provincial tourism

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“Stay local, or stay regional, support those businesses that are your neighbours, are your friends, are the things that make your community special,” said Jonathan Potts, executive director of marketing and communications for Tourism Saskatchewan.

He said more people are doing outdoor activities in general, including camping, something that he said saw a surge in popularity last year with 24 per cent more overnight permits issued for provincial parks, and 8 per cent more daily permits.

The organization said it encourages everyone to explore the province when it’s safe.

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