Last week Trish and I, along with Patch (our youngest) spent some time exploring Ontario as tourists in the world of COVID-19. We rented a Jeep, took the top down and hit the road on Monday, not really knowing what to expect. Our journey took us up through Huntsville, across to Killarney, onto Manitoulin Island, across Georgian Bay on the Ferry to Tobermory before heading home. With the exception of everyone wearing masks inside, lots of handwashing and the occasional difficulty finding a bathroom, it was just like all of the other road trips we have taken over the years.
Actually, there was one other thing that was noticeably different and that was the sincere appreciation from the staff/owners of the places we visited, stayed and spent money. There was a better personal connection and interaction at almost every place we went, including a game store in Sudbury where we purchased an expansion pack of Villainous (if you haven’t tried it, you should) for Jude who turns 16 this week. There is more respect between guests. More patience. And a feeling that we are all in this together.
When we started planning this vacation in July, we were surprised at how few accommodators had vacancy. With almost everything completely full, I expected all of our stops to feel crowded. We stayed at a cottage, a resort, in a teepee and at a motel in the heart of Tobermory. At the Kicking Mule Ranch where we stayed in an amazing teepee, complete with two double beds, we found out why things were not as busy at the attractions, accommodations and restaurants as we had expected. They, and others, were not running at 100% capacity. In fact, Kicking Mule Ranch was limiting their capacity to 30% so there was lots of space for each bubble on property. This seemed to be the case at all of the other places we stayed as well.
We spent a lot of our time outside, which also seemed to be the new normal for the other visitors we encountered. The stores we ventured into throughout the trip were never crowded, but seemed steady. I spoke with several staff asking how the summer had been so far and the general response was that it was a slow start through May and June, but had picked up substantially in July and August. This is a trend that I hope will continue for all of our businesses into the fall.
With the exception of cracking the windshield of the rented Jeep, it was one of our more memorable road trips, made so by the great places we went, the fun places we stayed and the kindred people we met along the way. Our house was even still standing with little evidence of the parties that Gavin and Jude surely held while we were away.
I guess the takeaway from this is the importance of connecting with your guests when they take time to see you. They appreciate it and will tell their friends about their great experience. There is also nothing wrong with asking people to write a review or post a comment on your social channels. Every little bit helps.
The businesses of tourism are not out of the woods yet. But if our five days on the road is any indication, humankind is quick to adapt and is ready to begin exploring again. Hang in there, and reach out to me directly if there is anything Central Counties can do to assist. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.