Lee Boyko, executive director of Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Centre, says has seen a drop of at least 50 per cent compared to previous years, as “staycationers” from around B.C. become the new demographic instead of tourists from Europe or the United States. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)

Tourism drop takes toll on Vancouver Island’s southwest coast

‘I’ve written off this year,’ says Sooke whale watching company owner

Paul Pudwell is lucky if he’s able to book one whale-watching expedition on an average day in Sooke.

Though the owner of Sooke Whale Watching never closed when the pandemic hit, he’s only started to see a trickle of customers since July.

Pudwell says generally in June, July and August, he can expect to make between $30,000 to $40,000, the most significant chunk of his yearly income. Now, he’s only getting around 10 per cent of usual business.

The norm of three boats a day, each filled up to 24 people, has been replaced with groups as small as six heading out to find transient orcas, humpbacks, and other marine life in the Juan de Fuca Strait.

“I don’t expect anything much [going into September and October],” said Pudwell, owner of Sooke Whale Watching for the past 10 years. “I’ve written off this year. Luckily, we have a chance of surviving while others might not.”

Pudwell shared his concerns for larger whale-watching companies located in downtown Victoria, which have to deal with a few competitors. The Sooke resident owns all his equipment and says overhead is relatively low as he and his brother run the company.

As one of two whale-watching operators in Sooke, Pudwell says if he lowers his prices any further, he’d have to close his doors.

READ MORE: Orca punting seal spotted by Greater Victoria whale watching company

Prestige Oceanfront Hotel in Sooke hasn’t seen as dramatic of a drop in visitors, but they pointed out that they are missing out on a sizable chunk of their summer business from cancelled weddings.

“In a typical summer we see at least 65 weddings and those have all vanished,” said Amy Nunn, vice president of sales and marketing for Prestige Hotels and Resorts.

Nunn pointed out that they’ve seen more customers booking last minute, within a week of their arrival date, since the pandemic first began.

She said Prestige is planning to roll out more ‘Staycation’ deals that will encourage B.C. residents to make the trek to the Island heading into the fall months.

ALSO READ: Sooke Fall Fair to host four contests to make up for cancelled 2020 event

While the Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Centre has seen a 50 per cent drop in visitors, its demographic has shifted from mostly European and American walk-ins, to “staycationers” from across B.C. dropping by their location.

“Our spaces are not great for large groups to come through, so we’ve had to cap at 12 visitors in the main building at all times,” executive director Lee Boyko said.

“Our night market has been running through the summer, but we had to cut the amount of vendors in half.”

Boyko said although he’s unsure what programs will be returning in the fall, he’s confident no large events, such as the Moss Cottage Christmas market, will move forward without significant social-distancing adjustments.

Until then, he encourages visitors to drop by the Sooke Night Market on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., located at 2070 Phillips Rd. before its final day on Sept. 3.

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aaron.guillen@goldstreamgazette.com

SookeTourism Victoria

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