and Lynne Lavery
MRC PONTIAC – Pontiac’s tourism entrepreneurs met via a virtual meeting, April 20, to assess the difficult situation they find themselves in during the
ever-changing Covid-19 landscape.
Jim Coffey of Esprit Rafting spearheaded the initiative so businesspeople could jointly outline the challenges, hopes, and strategies for a profitable tourist season. The 12-plus participants included Lac Bryson Outfitters, several local rafting companies, Pine Lodge, MRC Pontiac and SADC representatives, as well as Tourisme Outaouais and the Journal’s Cottage Living Magazine. Pontiac MP William Amos outlined federal government initiatives, with
mayors Gaston Allard (Fort-Coulonge) and Gilles Dionne (Mansfield) also participating.
Tourist operators face the challenges of the closed US border, reduced international air service, restricted regional travel and fear surrounding the virus. Foremost is the uncertainty of when, or even if, their businesses will be allowed to open this 2020 season. Normally bookings and deposits have been received by now, but with continued uncertainty, entrepreneurs don’t know whether to go ahead in hiring staff, purchasing insurance, and adding other start-up costs. As one participant stated, “We require a critical mass of business to make it viable to even open our doors.”
Amos commented that his government is literally re-inventing the social safety net, adding he is cautiously optimistic about the future.
Coffey summed up the mood of the meeting and how it had perhaps changed in the two weeks since. “Things seemed pretty bleak to us that night,” he said, “but Pontiac’s tourism operators are resilient. We’ve withstood floods and fires; we will certainly do everything we can to survive this challenge.” Coffey added, “Certain things are starting to open up, but the question remains: when will we be allowed to open? We face not only a financial, but a moral dilemma; we have a responsibility to operate safely. How can we achieve that?”
Focus on local people, says Tourism Outaouais
Until they learn if the rafting season will go ahead, Esprit plans to open up their base to the public by bringing back their wood-fired pizza – as take-out, or picked up via boat or car, and possibly setting up picnic tables so people can enjoy Esprit’s prime location on the Ottawa River, each at a safe physical distance.
Other operators are also assessing their options and considering the Tourism Outaouais’ officer’s encouragement to “take a conservative approach; read between the lines; change your focus for this season; think outside the box
and concentrate on the local market.” More such meetings may be called.