Sue Sands is tuning up her mountain bike, preparing for two weeks of bruised knees, sore thighs and battered shins. She couldn’t be more excited.
Ms. Sands, a physical education teacher at Port Moody Secondary School in B.C., is headed to Roberts Creek, a small community along the province’s Sunshine Coast, for March spring break beginning next week. She will be joined by a friend from Britain who, now that travel restrictions have lifted, is excited to shred world-famous B.C. trails.
“Travelling seems so much more possible now,” said Ms. Sands. She even brought an electric mountain bike in preparation for a summer filled with adventurous road trips.
Ms. Sands said most of her colleagues at Port Moody Secondary are also hitting the road for spring break.
“I definitely get the feeling that people are trying to get away somehow,” she said. “Even if it is just to reconnect with family.”
With the pandemic seemingly in the rear-view mirror, many Canadians are escaping. Vancouver International Airport reports passenger numbers are on the rise, with 35,000 passengers a day now (compared to 25,000 in mid-February). The airport is expecting this spring break to be the busiest period since March, 2020. Toronto Pearson was expecting 85,000 passengers Friday, making it the busiest travel day since the start of the pandemic. Air Canada and WestJet are also projecting strong numbers.
Caitlyn Kukulowicz will be one of the passengers boarding a flight at Toronto Pearson. She is headed to Miami with her dad, uncle and little brother.
“I’m mostly excited for the sunshine and to be able to go outside without wearing a coat,” said Ms. Kukulowicz, who is in Grade 12. “I find that around February and March, everyone in Toronto just needs to get out and see the sun.”
The Kukulowicz family has not vacationed since the pandemic. Shayne Kukulowicz, Ms. Kukulowicz’s father, did not think it was worth the effort or the risk. But now that restrictions are lifting, they are relieved to finally get out of town.
“I’m excited for the warm weather,” said Mr. Kukulowicz. “We haven’t gone anywhere warm in a while. I just wanna beach for a couple of days.”
For the domestic tourism industry, a boost in business is exactly what companies say they need after a rough two years. They are enthusiastically preparing for a two-week period that will hopefully put them back on track.
“At last, we’ve seen a big uptick after two years of surviving,” said Yos Gladstone, owner of Chromer Sport Fishing in B.C.
Spring is a big season for sport fishing in B.C. In March and April, Mr. Gladstone takes his clientele to Squamish, where they fish bull trout and steelhead. For two years, his season was wiped out by the pandemic. Last year, he had a trickle of local clientele. The year before, it all shut down. But this year he is at full capacity.
“I think we’re seeing a higher level of consumer confidence in tourism than we have in two years,” said Mr. Gladstone. “We can finally look forward and see what is to come, rather than crossing our fingers and hoping things don’t change”
Tourism destinations across the country are also reporting an increase in bookings. Batawa Ski Hill, located just north of Trenton, Ont., is looking forward to packed slopes, with their March Break ski and snowboard camps at full capacity.
“Our spring break is shaping up to be a great end to the season,” said Andrea Jengle, communications co-ordinator at Batawa. “We’re expecting to see lots of families soaking up the sun on the slopes.”
Brewster Adventures, which offers horse-drawn sleigh rides at Lake Louise, Alta., is also looking forward to good numbers.
“We’re not quite back to full capacity,” said Kevin Stanton, owner of Brewster Adventures. “But we’re getting close.”
Brewster bookings mostly depend upon the occupancy at Fairmont Château Lake Louise, a 539-room hotel located on the shores of the lake. And according to Mr. Stanton, the Château is going to be busy come Monday.
The Fairmont Banff Springs in nearby Banff, Alta., also reported a rise in bookings. Sun Peaks Resort, located just outside Kamloops, is booking at rates 100 per cent higher than March last year. According to president and chief executive officer Arlene Schieven, bookings are not far from pre-COVID levels. Rockwood Adventures, an eco-tourism excursion company based in Vancouver, has 10 per cent more bookings this year than it did the February before the pandemic.
However, according to Mr. Gladstone, tourism companies are not out of the woods yet.
In a normal year, 80 per cent of Mr. Gladstone’s fishing clientele are American, and 15 per cent are Canadian. This year, it is reversed, with Canadians making up the majority. He hopes travel restrictions will further loosen and confidence will grow, so his international business – which can be very profitable – will pick back up.
Additionally, Mr. Gladstone, who is also president of the BC Fishing Tourism Association, said his industry is short on guides. So while he is running at full capacity right now based on his staffing levels, he is limited. He is therefore only at half the capacity he could reach before the pandemic. He is worried that if bookings keep the same momentum, he will have to start turning away clients.
Batawa Ski Hill is also restricted by the staff shortage. The ski hill’s indoor dining will not be open this year as a result.
“We didn’t have enough staff,” said Ms. Jengle. “It wouldn’t be feasible to hire staff only to lay them off at the end of the season.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Gladstone sees the staff shortage as minor in comparison to the challenges of the pandemic. He is relieved to have customers back.
“At this point, after the two years we’ve had, we’re just happy to have everybody,” said Mr. Gladstone.
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