Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia resorts report healthy season despite pandemic

Nova Scotia leisure resorts say they had a successful season this year as many people opted to take vacations closer to home because of the pandemic.

Some resorts are extending their season to take advantage of demand

Patrick Wallace and his wife, Pamela, purchased Trout Point Lodge in 2018. (Julian Haber Photography)

Despite the pandemic, or maybe because of it, Nova Scotia resorts are reporting a successful season in 2021.

Travel restrictions earlier in the year and other pandemic measures appear to have led many people in the province to take their vacations closer to home. 

Some resorts are even extending their season to take advantage of demand.

Trout Point Lodge in East Kemptville would normally close to guests in late October but is now planning to stay open until mid-February.

Patrick Wallace, who purchased the 13-room property in 2018, said Nova Scotians have flocked to the resort despite the lockdowns and uncertainties of the past two seasons,

"We've actually never been busier and we've just been so thankful for all of the Nova Scotian guests who have visited us, many, many of them repeat guests," he said.

According to Wallace, about half of the resort's guests were from overseas prior to the pandemic. He said the other half were from across Canada. 

Nova Scotians willing to pay

Guests have come almost exclusively from Nova Scotia or the Atlantic bubble for the past two seasons, he said.

Wallace said the resort did not have to offer discounts and was able to maintain its pricing due to the high demand.

He said the pandemic showed that people in the province and region were willing to pay top dollar for a high-end "indulgent splurge." 

He said the decision to keep the hotel open until mid-February was based on demand because offering year-round employment made staffing easier in the medium and long term. 

"We always felt very, very, regretful and very sad at the end of a season where you have to say goodbye to people that you really care about," he said.

"Being able to keep our team together ... they're already really good and they'll just get better and better."

Paul Stackhouse, left, is the general manager of Digby Pines Resort. Val Stackhouse is the manager of marketing and product development. (Chantal Blair)

Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa also reports a successful season despite having to delay opening until June 4. Its planned date to open was April 30.

Paul Stackhouse, the general manager, said demand for rooms, the resort's main revenue generator, was high. But he said pandemic distancing rules affected food and beverage revenue.

Staffing challenges

He said the main challenge, as it was in many places, was finding staff.

"If you talk to anybody in our industry, there were a lot of managers making beds this summer," Stackhouse said.

He credits part of the demand for resorts like Digby Pines to people looking for cottage-style accommodations and open spaces.

He said people who would normally have gone away for a vacation over the past two years had money tucked away to spend on a vacation closer to home. 

The resort would normally close on Thanksgiving weekend but has opted to stay open until the end of October because of demand.

According to Stackhouse, the resort, originally owned by the province, is not winterized. He said staying open beyond October isn't possible although people have been calling to ask about stays in November. 

There is a plan to winterize part of the hotel that will allow some year-round operation beginning in 2022.

Labour shortage

Dean Leland, the owner of Oceanstone Seaside Resort near Peggys Cove, said business returned to 2019 levels despite wedding and corporate activity being disrupted.

Oceanstone resort says business has returned to near pre-pandemic levels (Bruce Bishop)

The resort, which is open year round, continues to grapple with labour shortages, said Leland. 

He said it is the key challenge facing the industry and the issue keeps him awake at night.

"A lot of the labour issues are well out of our control and there's lots of work to be done from others," he said. "I guess that that will help fix it, but it's not going to be an immediate fix and we all know that."

At Milford House in rural Annapolis County, which bills itself as "Nova Scotia's longest running family oriented wilderness resort," general manager Krista Vidito said it was "an extremely successful season."

Milford House says it had a successful season in 2021. (Krista Vidito)

Vidito said many people who would normally have gone out of province for their vacation discovered the resort for the first time. 

Services reduced

She said some services like housekeeping had to be reduced because of the pandemic but guests were understanding about the situation.

"We have a very large dining room, so we were able to keep distance, keep spacing," she said.

"We were really lucky that way and we offered takeout for the first time and we also offered patio service for the first time."

The resort has 28 cabins, three of which are winterized and available all year even when the main lodge and the dining facilities close for the season. 

Vidito said guests have mainly come from Halifax for the past two years, but a large number of guests came from the U.S. prior to the pandemic.

"We did have a couple return this year, but for the most part, we're still waiting to welcome them back till next year," she said.


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