Coastal Rainforest Safaris in Port Hardy. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)

Coastal Rainforest Safaris in Port Hardy. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)

North Island business given ‘breathing room’ during pandemic

Andrew Jones established Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures over 20 years ago.

While the owner of two outdoor adventure businesses based on the north end of Vancouver Island anxiously awaits the visitor economy to experience some relief from COVID-19, he is thankful that he and others have access to the BC Tourism Resiliency Network.

Andrew Jones established Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures over 20 years ago as a means of offering visitors fully outfitted and guided kayak tours of Northern Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest that take place over multiple days. A second business partnership – Coastal Rainforest Safaris, offering whale watching and wildlife viewing tours – was set to start operations in 2020 … but then COVID hit.

The impact was instant and significant as the vast majority of travellers who traditionally book a Kingfisher experience are international visitors. At the same time, domestic and inter-provincial travel was impacted because of travel restrictions – and business is down a staggering 83 per cent from a year ago, in large part because they could only operate in one of four of their tour areas due to local government closures in Haida Gwaii, the Great Bear Rainforest, and west coast of Vancouver Island.

Jones was able to access assistance from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to help maintain some limited business and keep some of his staff employed. He then turned his attention to the BC Tourism Resiliency Network which was created by the BC Regional Tourism Secretariat. The Network provides access to a team of experts from health and safety to human resources, finances and strategic planning.

And while he was somewhat sceptical about what support the Tourism Resiliency Network might provide, Jones was pleasantly surprised.

“As someone with more than 20 years in the sector, having access to experts who understand the needs of tourism and the challenges a seasonal tourism operator faces, has been incredibly helpful. Advice related to HR and financial matters, helping facilitate a low interest loan through the Business Development Bank, and providing some financial flexibility during this difficult period has given us some breathing room.”

Traditionally, travellers who wish to register for a Kingfisher experience do so months in advance are largely international travellers, so Jones is in a position of offering refunds or transferring reservations to 2022 for those customers – and is instead targeting domestic travellers.

The Coastal Rainforest Safari experience, which involves day trips, is where he is holding out a greater sense of hope. “If travel restrictions ease over the next several month, we have an ability to make some headway by tapping into inter-provincial and possibly, domestic travel – but that remains to be seen.”

In spite of the challenges and anxiety, Jones is pragmatic about the current situation. “My outlook changes from day to day, but as difficult as this experience has been, our focus needs to be on the health and safety of our staff and community – so for the time being, business does need to be secondary.”

“The key is for our businesses is to survive long enough and get past this difficult period so we can regroup and move forward – and if we can do that, we’ll eventually be fine” concludes Jones.

Tourism Resiliency Network support is delivered through its five tourism regions, in this case the Tourism Association of Vancouver Island. CEO Anthony Everett says, “all too often we can get caught up in numbers when it’s personal stories like this which illustrate how a program like the Resiliency Network can have a very positive impact during a difficult period.”

For more information about the BC Tourism Resiliency Network, click HERE.

For information about the Kingfisher Wilderness Adventures and Coastal Rainforest Safaris, click HERE and HERE.

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