Who opens a new tourist attraction during a pandemic? Meet Canada’s Most Optimistic Entrepreneurs

Who opens a new tourist attraction during a pandemic? Meet Canada’s Most Optimistic Entrepreneurs

Canadians desperate for new vacation adventures this summer will soon have new options.
It may seem surprising, given the surge in COVID-19 cases, but a number of tourist attractions across the country are preparing to open for the first time in 2021.

For example, the District Wine Village is slated to open in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia in June. The $ 25 million development will provide visitors with food, live music and a selection of wines from 16 different small artisan producers.

In Nova Scotia, the new owners of Cape Smokey Ski Resort are completing the first phase of a $ 100 million renovation to create an all-season resort. The new gondola is slated to open on July 1, providing guests with what are known as “beautiful and incredible” views on the Cabot Trail.

And in downtown Toronto, a unique attraction called “Little Canada” will soon be selling tickets to see a miniature version of the country.

WATCH | Miniature version of Canada opens in Toronto:

A tourist attraction featuring scale models of Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe and Quebec will be ready this summer. 1:07

“The country is too big to be built all at once, even in miniature,” said chief executive John Phillipson. “So we opened with five destinations. Scale models of Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe and Quebec will be ready this summer, with more to come.

Awkward moment

But what are these operators thinking about? A global pandemic is surely the worst possible time to launch a tourist attraction. Lockdowns keep international travelers away, and domestic visitor revenues are reduced by regulations on coronavirus capacity.

Beth Potter, CEO of the Canadian Tourism Association, said industry revenues were down 35% overall and 500,000 jobs had been lost.

John Phillipson, Managing Director of Little Canada, stands by one of the displays at the new tourist destination that will open in Toronto this summer. (Little Canada)

As a senior spokesperson for the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses, a group of nearly 6,000 companies active in the hospitality, tourism, arts, culture and hospitality industries, Potter said that up to 60% of members would not survive unless government support programs are extended in the next federal budget.

“Even though there is no income, their fixed costs have continued,” she said. “So they still have to pay off their debt, pay a mortgage or rent and, of course, all the other costs associated with running their business. “

WATCH | The NS ski resort is transformed into an all-season resort:

The new owners of Cape Smokey are building a gondola that will open this summer with a “magnificent” view on Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. 0:50

Despite this grim scenario, the entrepreneurs behind Canada’s newest attractions say they have no choice but to move forward – their projects were launched before the pandemic, and it doesn’t make sense commercially to press the pause button.

Projects can’t wait

Martin Kejval, CEO of Cape Smokey Holding, said the resources and energy that must be mobilized to build major attractions cannot necessarily be put on hold.

“If you are not optimistic and you don’t go, even in these difficult times, you will emerge after five years and you will have nothing,” he said. “The situation could be different, and your passion and resources may not be there. “

Kejval said an analysis of traffic volume on the Cabot Trail last summer showed there were only 20% fewer vehicles than usual. And with the Atlantic Bubble reopening in May, he hopes more visitors will explore the area this summer.

Will local tourism be enough on its own to sustain the business until 2021? “To be honest, barely,” he says.

But Kejval, who competed internationally for the Czech Republic as an alpine skier before settling in Canada, said the group of European investors behind the development envisioned years in the future – au – beyond the impact of the pandemic – for its benefit.

A rendering of the new District Wine Village in central British Columbia A central amphitheater is surrounded by 16 different buildings, which will house small artisanal winegrowers. (Construction Greyback)

Hiring for the summer will begin soon, with 70 vacancies for the coming season. “We will ultimately employ just under 500 people,” Kejval added.

Rejected travel request

At the Okanagan Wine Village District, Matt Kenyon is also optimistic.

“There is clearly a lot of pent-up demand to do things, especially something safe and out there,” said Kenyon, whose family business, Greyback Construction, is the largest investor in the Wine Village District.

WATCH | A new wine destination in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia:

“There’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand to do things, especially something safe and out there,” the investor said of the $ 25 million development. 1:01

He said the 10-acre site is landscaped with large patios for outdoor tastings and a huge amphitheater in the center for live music. “There are outdoor seating areas,” he says. “There is just a great atmosphere when you enter the wine village. “

Kenyon admits the whole effort has been “nerve-racking,” given that he and his partners launched the project in February 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 ended. But he said he felt confident about the future, as other well-established wineries in the Okanagan did pretty well last summer, despite the pandemic.

“Many tasting rooms were quite busy last year in the valley so we are confident it will be another busy season,” he said. “We hope the vaccines continue to roll out quickly so that that level of comfort comes as soon as possible, that we are safe and that people can have fun.

A render of the treehouse slated to be built by 2022 at the resort town of Cape Smokey on Cape Breton Island. An elevated path will allow visitors to walk through the canopy of trees. A seven-story observation tower is also in the works. (Cape Smokey Holding)

At the Little Canada attraction in Toronto, John Phillipson also relies on the immunization program to help make the process easier.

“We see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The tunnel is much longer than we thought, but we know the light is there and we will get there. “


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