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Cool Ontario summer chills patio profits and tourism

Sunrise on Crane Lake, Ontario. The summer vacation industry in the Muskoka region, about 200-kilometres north of Toronto, got off to a rough start as more than 133 millimetres of rain fell in June, a 56-per-cent increase over the normal average rainfall.

Judy Bluege/Judy Bluege

Colder summer weather across Ontario has put pressure on tourism-dependent businesses that rely on July and August to generate the bulk of their profits.

After a particularly-harsh winter, "I think people felt they were owed good weather, they were owed a summer of beer-drinking and muscle-shirt and tank-top weather," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada. "For vacationers and beachers [in Ontario] it has been a bummer of a summer. It has been cool and wet and the water temperatures haven't warmed up," he said.

Mr. Phillips added that there hasn't been a day above 30 degrees in July or August in Toronto.

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The summer vacation industry in the Muskoka region, about 200-kilometres north of Toronto, got off to a rough start as more than 133 millimetres of rain fell in June, a 56-per-cent increase over the normal average rainfall.

At Deerhurst Resort, one of Muskoka's largest getaway hubs, the cooler weather led to a drop in "transient business," or vacationers and visitors not booking in large groups.

"We were down on that significantly in July," said Michael Sneyd, chief executive of Skyline International Development Inc., which bought Deerhurst in 2011. Mr. Sneyd said the difference between warm weather and poor conditions can mean a 15- to 20-per-cent drop in recreational travellers.

The company has spent millions of dollars building out the resort, boosting the meeting space to 50,000 square feet, which helps attract large groups far in advance.

This cushions the business against the variability of weather conditions, Mr. Sneyd said. Other changes the resort has made to cope with the threat of bad weather include building a better indoor play area for kids with a climbing wall and updating the indoor pool.

Smaller resorts don't have that luxury.

"Some of the early weeks [in July] that we look to fill in, for sure they were affected by the weather," said Bruce Howell, co-owner of Colonial Bay Cottage Resort in Huntsville, Ont., which rents out 15 cottage units. He said business has picked up in August as people use up their vacation time. One way he and other resorts cope with bad weather is pooling together. "In the trying times, we share a lot of referrals," he said.

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The bad weather has also had an impact on the boating industry in Ontario and the marinas and gas bars that support them. "Last week was brutal. I had to do some apologizing," said Ryan Mack, owner of Northern Lakes Marine, which rents out its fleet of nearly 50 watercraft to tourists and cottage owners in Muskoka. He rents most of his boats in advance, long before the weather forecast is clear.

"Obviously, I can't control the weather, but we had people booking a week's boat rental, spending between $1,300 and $1,800, and they may use it one or two days," he said. Some of his customers' vacation packages cost $60,000 to $70,000.

Mr. Mack hasn't seen Muskoka's growing popularity affected by weather yet, but he says there's always a risk. "You never know," he said. "We have a lot of American customers, a lot of people from out West, and … for a lot less money you could go to Florida."

Ontario isn't alone in its challenging weather conditions. Widespread forest fires caused by a hot and dry weather in the Northwest Territories have dramatically affected tourism, said Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce. More than 350 fires have raged in the region this summer, with clouds of black smoke obscuring roads and disrupting businesses. "Welcome to the new Hades," Mr. Bradshaw said in an interview from Yellowknife.

Some tourists were stranded in Yellowknife for days or weeks, unable to get to their vacation destinations in other parts of the territory. Recently, a group of 150 cruise ship travellers trying to get to Nunavut were held up in Yellowknife by the fires. Tour operators and NWT Tourism are trying to keep the travellers entertained while they are stranded, Mr. Bradshaw said.

While Ontario and NWT have struggled with their weather fortunes, other parts of Canada have been luckier. Both the East and West coasts have had warm weather this summer. Calgary has had more days above 30 degrees than Toronto. "That never happens!" said Mr. Phillips.

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But Mr. Phillips said things could have been worse for Ontario since most of the summer rain has missed the weekends. "It's nature's attempt to make us feel a little better about it," he said.

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About the Author
Financial Services Reporter

Jacqueline Nelson is a financial services reporter at the Report on Business. Prior to that she was a staff writer at Canadian Business magazine, covering news and writing features on a wide variety of subjects. More


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