Gros Morne tourism operators hopeful for a better season in 2021

The whole western Newfoundland tourism industry was thrown for a loop in 2020. For the coming season, the ability to adapt on the fly has become an essential tool in everyone’s kit.

James Grudic

Paddleboarders float on the water outside the Gros Morne Adventures rental shop.
Throughout the pandemic, Gros Morne Adventures have been able to keep their marine tours open. Photo submitted by Kristen Hickey

Businesses in Gros Morne National Park have had to stay on their toes and adapt to the pandemic for the last year, but they’re poised to make the best of the coming season.

Now in 2021 with vaccinations rolling out across Canada, those who rely on tourism are getting ready for a new year of possibilities.

Kristen Hickey is a co-owner of Gros Morne Adventures, a business based in in Norris Point that offers daily guided tours of the area. The company has been able to continue offering the marine aspect of what it does, with kayak, paddleboard and Zodiac tours.

Last year, she and her staff were surprised by the volume of customers they had coming in.

“We had to go from three staff to 10 in the beginning of the summer,” said Hickey. “We got caught off guard, actually.”

She says that this year her business is feeling better prepared to adapt on the fly than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re feeling better prepared than we were last spring,” Hickey said. “We’re trying to get ready for anything that gets thrown at us so we can have a successful summer.”

While Ontario heads into another provincial lockdown, the risk to public health from incoming travellers still seems very real.

Hickey says she’s had to postpone bookings from out-of-province clients, but she’s staying optimistic.

“Our clients that come from the rest of Canada are still booked with us for 2021,” she said. “They’re still holding out hope that they’ll be able to come to Newfoundland this summer.”

“We need to get the world opened up in order for us to be making a living again.” – Otto Sparkes, owner of the August Jane Inn in Rocky Harbour

Across the water from Norris Point, some businesses in Rocky Harbour have been reawakening after lying dormant for a year. Hotels and boat tours that have been closed are set to reopen for the 2021 season.

Otto Sparkes is the owner of the August Jane Inn in Rocky Harbour. Last year during the height of the pandemic, the inn was still able to open for business – at about one-third normal capacity.

When the Atlantic bubble opened up, Otto says his business increased marginally.

“It’s hardly enough to pay your workers and pay your property taxes,” said Sparkes, laughing.

In a small community such as Rocky Harbour, everyone affects each other. Sparkes says that every local business that’s able to re-open helps to draw visitors to the area and keep them there.

“The more you have to offer here, the more people will want to stick around. People want to go out for supper, and listen to music and all of that. Otherwise after a few days people get a bit antsy,” said Sparkes.

With more hotels and tours in the area reopening for business in 2021, he says things might be better than they were last year. Even with borders opening to other provinces, Sparkes says things won’t be back to normal for the hospitality industry.

“We need to get the world opened up in order for us to be making a living again,” he said. “The vaccines are what we need to get on the go here now.”

When it comes to opening up to travel from the rest of Canada, Sparkes said that he’s keeping an ear out for what Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and other public health officials have to say.

“If people get their vaccines and Dr. Fitzgerald says ‘open up,’ then everyone will open up. We’ll wear our masks and socially distance and do what we did last year.”

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