“Busiest year of all time”: Whiteshell stations say Manitobans looking for summer getaways boost business

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Whiteshell-area resort owners say they’ve never had a busier summer, as Manitobans explore their own province for summer fun during a pandemic.“It’s been crazy,” said Greg Ftoma, owner of Brereton Lake Resort, his sun terrace filled with patrons sitting at well-spaced tables. “I’ve been here for 18 years and it’s the busiest season we’ve ever had. “

A few lakes away, the resorts of Big Whiteshell Lake see the same peak.

“The busiest year ever, in my 32 years here,” said Liberty Des Roches-Dueck, owner of Whiteshell Lake Resort.

“In May, we were still wondering if we would be allowed to open. We were getting a little worried about it.… At the beginning of June, the phone kept ringing. ”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Des Roches-Dueck anticipated the worst case, fearing that he would not be able to open at all.

“We were trying to figure out how we were going to keep the lights on,” she says.

Now, thanks to canceled pandemic restrictions and a limited number of trips outside the province, his station in southeastern Manitoba is booked until September. In a normal season, they could get 900 days of reservations, but they’re already around 1,200.

“No one can go anywhere. They have to stay in Manitoba, ”she said. “They’re not going to British Columbia for a wedding. They don’t go to the United States. … They must stay at home. So what else are you doing?«

Staycation in style

According to Manitoba public health rules, anyone arriving in the province from east of Terrace Bay, Ontario, must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Federal rules apply the same standard to anyone entering the country.

Colin Ferguson, president of Travel Manitoba, said the tourism organization had heard encouraging reports from rural Manitoba, including the Whiteshell, Interlake and Clear Lake areas. He said he was confident that tour operators could accommodate more visitors while respecting public health rules.

“The operators are very aware of this and very careful with customers. [Many use] contactless check-in and that sort of thing, “he said.” A lot of the stations you talk about in the Whiteshell and other areas … are individual cabins [with] the opportunity to stay in a family bubble. ”

Travel Manitoba urges Manitobans to explore the province and support local businesses.

“It’s summer to show Manitoba some love,” Ferguson said. “It can be as easy as hitting an outdoor patio… or it can be as easy as visiting a museum. “

A pair of mountaineers is preparing to climb a rock face in the Whiteshell area earlier this week. (Ezra Belotte-Cousineau / Radio-Canada)

Public health rules regarding physical distancing and cleanliness have changed how businesses operate, even successful ones.

At Brereton Lake Resort, Ftoma said the restaurant had rolled out tables, stepped up cleaning and turned off a hand sanitizer.

At Whiteshell Lake Resort, Des Roches-Dueck said it had to hire more staff to deal with the increased need for cleaning. But the challenges are worth it, she said.

“I just know that we are grateful. We avoided a disaster, ”she said. “So many other businesses are closing and we have been very lucky. ”

Al Scott, director of golf course operations for Lakeland Management, which helps manage the Falcon Lake golf course, said the course was having a good summer, despite the difficulties in recruiting enough staff.

He saw a division of attitudes among golfers, between those who are afraid of COVID-19 and those who are convinced that it is under control. But everyone seems happy to be on the links.

“Business is going really well,” he said. “Everyone is happy when it comes to the golf course. “

Balance emotional and physical health

Mia Fast and Erica Schulz were at the beach with their families on a sunny day earlier this week. Both men said they were surprised to see so many people in the Whiteshell area, but felt safe because everyone seemed to be following public health advice to keep their distance.

“There has to be a balance between emotional and physical health, and sometimes you just have to take the risk because your kids have an emotional need to go out, to see people,” said Fast. ” They have fun. “

Mia Fast says it’s important to balance physical and mental health needs when going out, even during a pandemic. (Ezra Belotte-Cousineau / Radio-Canada)

Mike Hameluck, who lives in the Whiteshell area, said he’s happy to see tourists – as long as they don’t come from areas like Toronto, where COVID-19 cases are still high compared to those in the Manitoba.

“I feel very safe here in Manitoba because wherever you go – all the stores, all the beaches, everything – people are always socially isolated and following protocols,” he said.

“Everyone is starting to come to life and [starting] go out and enjoy the beautiful province that we have here. ”

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