Nfld. & Labrador

'Staycationing' could provide a summer lifeline for adventure tourism operators

Despite some hefty unknown factors, adventure tourism businesses are ready to open for the summer season.

'Staycationing' expected to see surge in visits to western Newfoundland: operator

Gros Morne Aventures offers kayaking tours with Gros Morne National Park as its backdrop. (Gros Morne Adventures)

The mountains, waterways and geographic splendour of western Newfoundland are often considered an outdoor paradise, and are marketed that way around the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, though, is cutting off national and international clientele from accessing the rugged landscapes and breathtaking scenery, which means that the summer of 2020 will be very different for businesses that rely on tourism. 

Nonetheless, at least two local companies remain optimistic, and they're pegging their hopes on Newfoundland and Labrador residents who will be looking for "staycation" experiences closer to home. 

"It will be a different year and a lot of people are struggling, and it's just going to be one of those times that Newfoundlanders have to pull together again," said Kristen Hickey, owner of Gros Morne Adventures, based in Norris Point. 

"I think they will, and I think they'll enjoy their summer."

Gros Morne Adventures has been based in Norris Point for 30 years. Hickey and her husband Robbie bought the company three years ago, and offer kayaking and paddle boarding tours, as well as hiking and camping excursions.

The company usually opens for the summer during the Victoria Day weekend, but have been delayed a month due to the pandemic.

It will now open its doors June 15.

The extra preparation time has not only allowed the owners to ramp up its cleaning and safety protocols, but is also providing them an opportunity to network with tourism stakeholders and explore new business ideas.

For instance, Gros Morne Adventures is working with the Qalipu First Nation to see if there are Indigenous experiences it can offer, and it's also looking at evening outdoor activities for Bonne Bay area, as most entertainment venues won't be able to open.

"There's a lot of communication going on and a lot of collaborating, which is unusual, but it's great," Hickey said. 

Gros Morne Adventures is also coordinating its safety protocols with government and industry partners to ensure that physical distancing standards are maintained.  

"We are fortunate enough to have socially distanced activities anyways. All of our activities are outside so that's a bonus for us and a lot of companies in Newfoundland," Hickey said. "Our procedures for the next level (are) following the provincial regulations on how to keep our clients and our visitors and our staff safe with cleaning procedures for all of our equipment."

Zipline company prepares for reopening

At the base of Marble Mountain, just outside Corner Brook, Marble Zip Tours is adjusting the layout of its office to accommodate fewer people, and ensure all the cleaning and personal protective equipment are in place for a June 8 opening.

Owner Martin Flynn says they've tweaked some of the business procedures to allow more online interactions leading into the zipline tours and the "Spider Challenge," the company's high ropes course. 

Martin Flynn has been tweaking some of the ways Marble Zip Tours will be doing business when it opens June 8. (Troy Turner/CBC)

Marble Zip Tours is normally a year-round business, but it closed in mid-March due to the pandemic.

While May is normally a slower month, business picks up in June.

"It's good that we can get open and it's early enough to let us prepare," Flynn said. "June month is not a busy, busy month until we get into July, so I think that will allow us to gradually adjust to the difference in how we work."

With the help of face shields for his staff, and fewer people doing the zip tours, Flynn says clientele will continue to have the same exhilarating experiences dangling near Steady Brook Falls.

He also said he is bracing for a quieter summer but is optimistic he will see an influx of visitors from the Avalon Peninsula.

"It's hard to predict what's going to happen because this is a first — we've never experienced this yet," he said. "But we do see a lot of traffic locally, especially from the east coast. It will be a slower summer, no doubt, but at least we're able to get open."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Troy Turner

Reporter

Troy Turner is a veteran journalist who has worked throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in both print and broadcast. Based in Corner Brook, he is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland Morning.

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