Pandemic uncertainty gives way to smooth kayaking on Lake Superior
Jun 21, 2020 08:41AM
Just a few short weeks ago, David Wells’ outlook on the tourism biz was pretty bleak.
As May arrived, the outdoor tour operator should have been organizing guided sea kayak trips on magnificent Lake Superior and welcoming visitors to his Wawa-area lodge. But COVID-19 had other plans.
Instead of wielding an oar, Wells found himself wielding a hammer, as he took up various on-site reno projects while waiting on word that he’d be allowed to open to guests again.
“Up until about two weeks ago, things were not looking good,” he said. “Accommodations were mixed; certainly our trips were not doing particularly well.
“Essentially, we decided that we would spend all of June on staff training and personal trips, and no matter what happened, we would not open the lodge until July.”
Since 1994, Wells and his partner, Renée Fedun, have hosted visitors at Rock Island Lodge, situated just south of Wawa, where Lake Superior meets the mouth of the Michipicoten River.
The retreat offers bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations, where visitors can take part in photography workshops, attend a corporate retreat, or even plan the wedding of their dreams.
Through their sister company, Naturally Superior Adventures, they bring paddling enthusiasts on sea kayak adventures, host guided canoe trips along area rivers, and offer devotees an array of sea kayak instruction seminars.
But the arrival of the novel coronavirus this past winter – and the subsequent shutdown by the provincial government – put all that in jeopardy.
Wells estimates roughly half of his clientele hails from the U.S., but with Canada-U.S. border restrictions remaining firmly in place until at least July 21, several bookings have had to be cancelled.
“Certainly, anyone that’s in for July, they’ve cancelled, because, in case the border were to open June 22, chances are people would have to self-isolate,” Wells said.
“So for people who are doing a trip, it wouldn’t make sense, really.”
International travel restrictions also ruled out his European guests, which account for about three to four per cent of Wells’ customers.
But things changed in late May when the province announced that tourist operators were among the businesses allowed to reopen – with precautions in place.
“Two weeks ago, the phone started ringing,” Wells said. “I think people are just getting really antsy; they want to get out.
“Possibly they’ve heard that being outside on Lake Superior is a pretty safe place to be, so bookings are all going up now.”
Staff are putting in place safety checks and balances, with Wells even appointing one to be the resident COVID-19 expert, developing best practices and adapting accordingly to the changing situation.
That means the season looks a little different from past years, Wells said.
Multi-day trips in a voyageur-style canoe – a 36-foot behemoth that carries 12 to 14 passengers at a time – have been cancelled.
To read the original story and see related articles, follow this link to the Soo Today website. https://www.sootoday.com/coronavirus-covid-19-sault-ste-marie-news/pandemic-uncertainty-gives-way-to...