-----Staycation 2020 is working in the Pontiac
MRC PONTIAC –About a month after the reopening of Québec tourism, the Journal caught up with local experts to assess how the industry and its businesses are faring out with new guidelines and requirements in light of the COVID pandemic.
Chantal Lair, MRC Pontiac Tourism Marketing Officer, explained that businesses are following public health guidelines and have focused mostly on regional tourists, with the MRC adapting its marketing campaign to reflect that. With summer in full force, she said businesses expect more tourists from elsewhere in Quebec and Ontario, including cottagers who always contribute to the local economy.
A new buy local initiative was recently launched, called “Outaouais d’abord” (Outaouais First), aimed at encouraging Outaouais residents to choose Outaouais businesses and products first before looking elsewhere (see page xx).
“Many businesses adapted early to the COVID shutdown, offering takeout and curbside pickups, expanding their offerings to provide a new service or product such as fresh produce or baking essentials when supplies were short... since restrictions have loosened, businesses continue to adapt,” said Lair.
The MRC Pontiac manages a provincial aid program, COVID-19 – Emergency assistance to small and medium enterprises, and the SADC manages a federal aid program, Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. Lair noted that Pontiac businesses have made good use of the different available funding.
---Bryson Lake Lodge
Owner Denis LeBrun said business is picking up and the new mantra is “Shop Local, Fish Local”, which is working so far. “We’re seeing a lot more locals, many who have never come here before,” he noted.
As of June 1, cottages could be rented to people living at the same address, which expanded to up to 10 people from three addresses, and just last week it was announced mixed groups would be permitted up to 10 people.
Normally the months of May and June comprise about 40% of their revenue, which was hard hit due to zero revenue in May. LeBrun said he is projecting lower income all summer and into the fall too since many hunters are from the United States and cannot travel here. Lebrun said continuing his operation was made possible due to a $40,000 interest free loan (if paid back in two years) for small businesses, a $10,000 insurance claim through the Québec Outfitters Federation for “business interruption”, and 100% salary grants for two summer students.
“We heavily depend on deposits, but they stopped in March,” said LeBrun, noting he didn’t know if he’d be able to open this summer. “But we still had expenses: fuel, insurance, fish docking, lease payments, school taxes, our salaries, etc., and the loans helped us with start-up,” he explained.
There has been a definite hit to income, but the business is optimistic it will recoup. “But if a second wave occurs during our big months of September and October, I just don’t know what will happen,” cautioned LeBrun, noting 20% of their income is generated during the moose hunt.
For now, the phone is ringing off the hook, and the Lodge is grateful to be close to Ontario and within Québec where most new bookings originate.
Newly appointed director, André Piché, has faced the challenges associated with the pandemic and in the past few weeks has seen a surge in customers as Québec reopens and people just want to get out of the house and do something.
Hired in February then laid off until mid-May because of COVID, the Calumet Island native is thrilled to be back in the Pontiac near family and home. His heart has always been with the Chutes: he was the first aerial park manager when it opened in 2008, and after three years, Prisme Equipment Canada, the company that built the park and provided training, recruited him. Piché spent the last ten years travelling all over the world working as project manager and crew chief in charge of new builds and training, all the while maintaining his connection to the Chutes: he continued providing training locally the whole time.
Piché is working hard to promote the park locally since most customers come from outside the Pontiac. Starting last week, Pontiac residents who show identification will receive 20% off from Wednesday-Friday.
The historical walk opened May 30, and the aerial park resumed operations June 13. Initially, the government announced requirements to use harnesses only once every 3 days, which wouldn’t have been financially feasible to reopen the aerial park. Current rules allow harnesses to be used once/day, with daily sanitization.
Government financial aid has been helpful: Chutes Coulonge accessed the $40,000 small business loan, and the MRC provided a small loan, which Piché said kept operations afloat when the prospect of reopening was uncertain.
--- Cycloparc PPJ
Unlike other businesses, the PPJ officially opened earlier than usual. “The MRC believed people needed to get out and enjoy the outdoors during this stressful time,” said Lair.
And developments along the trail continued this year too: three new Biciborne repair stations were installed in Bristol, Vinton and Waltham through a partnership between students of l’École Secondaire Sieur de Coulonge, La Défriche and the Carrefour Jeunesse-emploi du Pontiac.
Official statistics are not yet available, but inquiries from cyclists in the Outaouais region and Ottawa Valley indicate a steady number of cyclists expressing interest in the trail. The annual count will occur later this summer.
In conclusion, Lair said she hopes Pontiac businesses continue to rebound and hold tight: “As long as everyone continues to follow social distancing rules and COVID-19 cases continue to decrease, more and more tourists will hopefully choose to travel into our area this summer and fall.”
Unlike other businesses, the PPJ officially opened earlier than usual and is seeing a steady flow of users.