Shuswap tourism business owners are left wondering if clients will be able to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions. (File photo)

Shuswap tourism businesses brace for COVID-19’s effects on summer season

Hotels and recreation operations are seeing cancellations and decreased bookings

As long sunny days return to the Shuswap, tourism-reliant businesses that would usually be anticipating a booming summer are opening their doors to a much different reality due to COVID-19.

Mike Helfrick, the owner of Red’s Rentals, a boat rental business which operates seasonally in the Sicamous Channel, said he is getting up and running with some help from the local chamber of commerce. The chamber is proving seasonal businesses with hand sanitizer dispensers and other helpful equipment as they prepare to open.

The dispensers are just one of the precautions Helfrick and his employees are using to limit transmission of the virus. In order to maintain social distancing while staff fuel boats at their dock, customers will have a designated area to wait in.

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While ways of safely fuelling and renting boats are allowing him to open up, Helfrick said demand for the service is way down as a result of the virus. Compared to previous years, he said reservations are down by about 80 per cent, with most made prior to March.

Helfrick said he usually employs 13 people over the summer, but if business doesn’t pick up he might have to run it with less help this year. He said he has discussed most of the government relief packages with his accountant but said it is challenging for seasonal businesses to qualify.

Red’s Rentals is still accepting reservations and Helfrick said he expects to see some boats on the water by the May long weekend, which will offer a good chance to test the business’ new protocols before summer really kicks off.

Also opening shop to an uncertain future is Kira Karampelas, owner and operator of Sea-Dog Rentals in Salmon Arm. Karampelas opened the boat rental business recently to find there have been no inquiries about rentals so far.

Karampelas said it would be a great help to the boat rental business if other recreational opportunities such as campgrounds could open back up, making the Shuswap attractive to people looking for a vacation.

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Due to the seasonal nature of the business, Karempelas said revenue lost in May and June would be almost impossible to make up with only July, August and September. She said she has been talking with other marina owners and all are hoping restrictions will be lifted soon and people will take advantage of their services.

Jolene LaMarsh, general manager of the Hilltop Inn in Salmon Arm, said the hotel is already feeling the pinch due to the loss of bus tour traffic which is not set to resume for the foreseeable future. She said the cancellation of major events is also a strain on the hotel business; they have had to refund bookings made for the now-cancelled Roots and Blues festival.

LaMarsh noted that six of the vacant rooms at the hotel will be filled as BC Housing will be placing people there at least until the end of June.

One cause for optimism for LeMarsh are discussions now occurring at the federal and provincial levels about slowly easing restrictions.

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