Greg Ftoma has been swamped with resort bookings and is hiring summer staff earlier than usual.
Ftoma and his wife run Brereton Lake Resort in Whiteshell Provincial Park. They also own a restaurant, gas station, boat rental and laundromat in the area.
He is surprised his business has been skyrocketing since May, despite an exceptionally slow March and April because of COVID-19. Ftoma admits he wasn’t prepared for the uptake to happen so quickly. Not only has he brought in his seasonal staff earlier than last year, he is hiring another three employees.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s like what we would see in summer — July and August. We are all boggled. We are getting 15 to 20 emails a day from people scrambling to find a spot in Manitoba,” said Ftoma.
Seeing new faces
Most of the bookings are from vacationers in Winnipeg and Steinbach, he says. Some are regulars, and some are trying to find a last minute destination — like families who have had to cancel plans to visit other provinces or the United States because of the coronavirus, closed borders and two week quarantine restrictions.
Ftoma says even with the pandemic, his business is up 25 to 35 per cent over the same time last year.
“It’s harder to make our dollar, but we are surpassing last year because there are just more people. More people are coming out, faces we have never seen before,” he said.
Many are making day trips, he says, and they are coming out in droves. On any given Saturday, he estimates there are between 50 and 75 cars parked on the roadside, hiking trails in the area, stopping at Ftoma’s restaurant or store for food and drink.
He is now booking cabins into mid-September, with one week still available in July and August filling up.
Over at Falcon Trails Resort, also in the Whiteshell, there’s not an opening to be found until mid-September.
Glad for Phase 3
In Clear Lake, Reg Kehler is relieved Manitoba is moving into Phase 3 — which kicked in Sunday, June 21st — which he is banking on to salvage his summer.
Phase 3 of Manitoba’s reopening plan allows visitors to come from Western Canada or part of northwestern Ontario without having to self-isolate for two weeks if they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.
Kehler owns 50 stand alone-cottages and a hotel located in Riding Mountain National Park. About half of his clientele are from Saskatchewan, and the remainder from Manitoba, Alberta and B.C.
He was inundated with cancellations at the beginning of the year, but now he is starting to see a quick turnaround. He has averaged 15 to 20 bookings on each of the last two days.
“Visitors from Saskatchewan are holding off on cancelling, and now that they don’t have to isolate, we hope they will still come,” said Kehler. “I am optimistic they will come back.”
His business is down 30 percent over the same time last year. But with Phase 3 kicking in, he is hopeful for a quick rebound. Like Ftoma, he too is seeing a lot more last minute bookings from Manitobans who are scrambling to salvage cancelled holiday plans.
“We are seeing a lot more Manitoba and Winnipeg action. More bookings locally than ever before. Some, surprisingly, say they have never been to Clear Lake before,” said Kehler.
“Clear Lake is a gem. A mini Banff. Beautiful water, first class golf course and hiking trails. Only a few hours away,” he added.
At Thunderbird Bungalows in Wasagaming, the story is similar. Owner Louise Lusignan says half of her repeat visitors from Saskatchewan cancelled earlier in the year. Now she is hoping with Phase 3, they will come back.
“Had the mandatory isolation not been lifted, we would have been in serious trouble,” said Lusignan. “I don’t know if we would have pulled through the season.”
In a typical year, her 25 cabins are all booked by June 26. She still has a few openings, with July full.
Excited as July approaches
At Brereton Lake resort, Ftoma is excited to ramp up for what he says will be a hectic summer.
“I don’t know what will happen this summer, but I’m very excited, it will be good for business,” said Ftoma.
He’s thrilled to see new faces he has never seen before as well as visitors telling him they haven’t been back to the Whiteshell in 30 years since they were a child.
“That’s what it’s all about. Great memories. And making new ones this summer.”
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