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South Cariboo tourism operators see mixed COVID-19 impact

‘It will be at least 80 per cent less for us than a regular season’
RVs seen at South Point Resort prior to COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

Tourism operators in the South Cariboo are seeing mixed impacts on their business due to COVID-19.

Mani Bader, manager at Ten-ee-ah Lodge, says they’ve seen quite a big impact. For them, 99 per cent of there usual guests are from Europe, he says.

“Obviously, they’ve all cancelled. So, there’s still some, they’re hoping they can come in August, September but pretty much, all-inclusive, July is all cancelled.”

They’ve received some Canadian bookings but not anything near what they have in a regular season. In terms of government help, Bader says they have received a $40,000 interest-free loan. He’s planning to look into the wage subsidy, however, they won’t be opening the restaurant or hiring staff for that, he says.

“It’s so uncertain for how much bookings we have, so we’re just going to rent out a campsite and kind of our cabins. They’re fully equipped with kitchens. So people can just rent the cabins and do their own meals.”

They’re hoping once July comes around that they’ll get a few Canadian or B.C. bookings for the cabins and the campsite.

“We were talking about maybe 10-20 per cent from what we would usually have,” he says. “We were hoping to get that but it will be actually quite a bit less than I’m expecting. It will be at least 80 per cent less for us than a regular season.”

With the reduced bookings it’s mostly just Bader and his wife running the place.

With the number of cabins they have and the reduced number of bookings, they will have at least three days between guests staying in a cabin.

“That’s kind of our main thing that we want to do.”

They’re following the guidelines form WorksafeBC on cleaning, which will be more work but doable with the two of them due to the reduced bookings.

Bader says they were even debating, in a worst-case scenario, to cancel insurance for a year or something like that.

“Just to kind of basically make it over that time,” he says. “We don’t know yet.”

“It’s kind of a really bad situation for us but I kind of understand it and it is a serious disease. So there’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to try to get over it as soon as possible.”

Leanne Sallenback, who with her husband Kevin owns South Point Resort, says they re-opened on June 1. They’re a year-round resort but closed down for two and a half months.

“We were closed April, May and half of March.”

They’ve had to cancel a number of weddings and reunions due to gathering caps.

“So we’ve lost a lot of that this year but we’re definitely seeing the condos becoming a lot more popular. So people that don’t have RVs. It’s just kind of a nice option because they’re self-contained units with private patios and areas so people can social distance here. The RVs, I think with everybody around here, we’re just asking that they’re self-contained. So closed washrooms, showers etc. and we have a ton of protocols in place for on-site.”

Their guest are pretty much 100 per cent British Columbians right now, she says. Their normal market, however, is primarily British Columbia, she says.

“We’ve definitely lost some Albertans that we normally get but other than that we’re pretty much ok.”

They’ve also applied for a loan but they’re still waiting to hear back.

“We didn’t apply for a lot of stuff because we wouldn’t qualify anyways.”

Sallenback is expecting July and August to be busy but with people being very respectful of others.

“Everybody appreciates that we have protocols in place and that we are kind of proactive on this.”

She says that she hopes that for the resorts that do primarily have international guests that there is some help for those.

“Not only did this happen but insurance rates for resorts went up this year so we were kind of hit twice. Like, we were hit really hard,” she says. “We’re still technically in our first year of operation so it’s been a financial hit for sure but there’s others that have the international guests and their insurance went up so it’s going to be really hard for a lot of people.”

Irene Meili, owner of Fawn Lake Resort with her husband Ralph, and chair of the Highway 24 Tourist Association, says they were closed for the month of May. They also had to cancel all of their international guests up to the end of July so far. However, the biggest change was how they have to run the business, she says.

For example, they have to use harsher chemicals which they usually try to avoid because they have a sani-system and are close to the lake.

“We used to provide everything in our cabins from cutlery, plates, bedding and everything and we had to remove that all,” she says. “It’s not really mandatory. Those are guidelines that we have to follow.”

If someone gets sick at your place it doesn’t really matter if you made a mistake or not, it’s your image that goes down the drain, she says.

“I think that was the biggest concern. How can we keep our guests safe and ourselves too.”

She says about 20 per cent of usual customers are Americans or from around the world.

The bigger resorts are way more affected, especially by the Americans, she says, however, Meili was fairly positive about their own situation.

“What we saw already was a lot of bookings from people from British Columbia. The phone rings constantly with people who realize that their vacation in Mexico or wherever they usually go in (the) summer is not possible or might not be possible so they stay close to home and book a camping trip instead,” she says. “Most people still want to spend their vacations somewhere.”

They’ve also applied for the $40,000 loan.

“We’ve received it and are really happy about that.”

One thing that she’s found difficult is that the government only talked about guidelines which was nice because you have the choice but it made it really difficult as a business to determine what you can and can’t do, she says.

There were some people who called and didn’t understand that they were closed and, with some resorts still open, it created tension between locals and visitors, she says.

“I found that was not well done.”

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