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COVID-19: Peterborough-area cottage resorts prepare for another uncertain tourism season

Scotsman Point Cottage Resort near Buckhorn, Ont. Global News File

Tourism was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy in 2020.

While restrictions continue into this spring, operators of cottage resorts near Peterborough are hoping for the best as spring turns to summer.

“The shoulder season for May and June is slower than it usually is, but July and August look good. The fall is not as good as it usually is,” said Kitch Hill, manager of Scotsman Point Cottage Resort near Buckhorn, Ont. “Seems everyone wants their summer holidays, but the shoulder season people are hesitant at this point.”

Read more: Renewed optimism for Ontario travel industry for 2022

Kitch tells Global News Peterborough the 25-cottage resort has taken a hit due to the slower-than-normal shoulder season and so far, and 2021 is shaping up to be a lot like 2020 for bookings.

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And much like last summer, all of the guests that have prebooked are domestic tourists from Ontario, due to international border closures.

“It went about like this year. July and August were really busy, but everybody was uncertain as new restrictions were being implemented, such as how many people could gather and whether if you had to stay in your bubble,” Kitch said. “All of those things caused a great deal of uncertainty and people stayed away. We had business, but it wasn’t like it usually is.”

At Three Castles Resort in Buckhorn, owner Louis Melizan tells Global News Peterborough it’s been a different kind of busy through the winter and early spring.

He says he has four winterized cottages at the 18-unit resort that were booked as long-term rentals for renters and snowbirds who stayed in Canada this year.

Melizan also has essential workers staying on-site, which is allowed under the province’s current shutdown measures.

“I have people staying here that don’t have another place to live. I’m not going to tell them they have to leave because that doesn’t make sense. I have a crew coming in on Monday (to work on the bridge in Buckhorn). They start on Monday and they need a place to stay because they’re from out of town,” he said. “Obviously, those who want to go fishing and sightseeing, that’s discouraged.”

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Read more: COVID-19 worse for tourism industry than SARS, 9/11 and financial crisis combined, report says

Melizan said he’s not fully booked for the summer, but there has been a lot of interest.

He also pointed to a similar spring last year where restrictions were in place.

“We missed about five weeks of the season. As soon as the restrictions were lifted it went crazy. The phone rang off the hook,” Melizan said.

“I’m busy. We’re all busy. Obviously, we want this pandemic to be over. The best way for that is for everyone to stay home. If everyone did that last year, this would’ve been over. People have broken the rules and that’s clear.

“I take my hat off to the province for trying to open up and keep the economy moving, but at some point what’s too much and we may have crossed that line. It’s been a bit of a nightmare.”

Kitch and Melizan tell Global News Peterborough they have physical distancing and enhanced cleaning measures in place at both resorts.

The pandemic continues to hang over the upcoming tourism season and the latest COVID-19 modelling data isn’t painting a pretty picture

“We had hoped we would be in a better position this summer and that businesses would be able to reopen and get the revenue back in their businesses,” said Christopher Bloore, vice-president of policy and government affairs for Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO).

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“As today’s announcement makes clear, it will be a difficult path forward.  Our businesses are ready to go.”

Bloore tells Global News Peterborough the federal supports for wage and rental subsidies need to stay in place to keep businesses solvent.

TIAO remains in regular contact with the province as the shutdown continues and will ask that the support be reassessed should this go long-term.

He also said once restrictions are eased or lifted, it’s up to Ontarians to support the tourism sector to help keep the businesses open.

“As soon as they’ve got the jabs in their arms, or when they feel more comfortable to travel again, to look at Ontario and look at areas of Ontario they’ve not experienced before,” Bloore said.  “If we can redirect just some of the money that usually leaves to international travel back to our domestic economy, we can actually undo some of the damage that’s been done during the last 13 months.

“We know that if just 2/3 of those who go on international trips go on a provincial holiday, that could bring back $19.4 billion in economic activity and it could recreate 150,000 jobs that have been lost over the last 12 month period.”

The Trent-Severn Waterway is also a major driver for tourism in the Peterborough area.

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Barring any delays, it will open for the summer boating navigation season on May 21.

 

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