Hunting and fishing in remote northern Saskatchewan is an experience many haven’t enjoyed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a year into it, business is still slow for outfitters.
“It’s been pretty rough,” said Roy Anderson, Saskatchewan Commission of Professional Outfitters CEO.
According to Anderson, 80 per cent of Saskatchewan outfitters rely on American tourists for business.
But due to the Canada-U.S. border closing at the start of the pandemic, two-thirds of outfitters couldn’t open last year, which resulted in a $129 million revenue loss and 2,000 people out of jobs.
“Outfitters are pretty resilient, but they’ve never faced something like this in the history of the business,” Anderson said.
Recently, angling outfitters started to open up to the domestic market, he said, but many outfitters operating right now are doing it at a significant loss.
Most outfitting trip packages are geared toward American clients and the American dollar. Anderson says some businesses have had to adjust prices to Canadians looking for a deal.
“They’re not looking to pay what Americans would pay to come up. And of course, the expenses related to a trip don’t change,” Anderson said.
“Profit loss is one question. Having some cash flow is another. So sometimes you just got to open the doors and get some money going through.”
As a whole, the province’s tourism industry usually brings in $2.4 billion in visitor expenditure each year, according to Tourism Saskatchewan’s Jonathan Potts.
Due to COVID-19, Potts says roughly $1 billion was lost in visitor expenditure last year.
He expects things to slowly rebound this summer. According to Tourism Saskatchewan data, 80 per cent of Saskatchewan residents say they are comfortable travelling within the province. Potts says that comfort decreases when travelling out of province and out of country.
“We’ve seen people really embrace their local tourism industry and regional tourism industry and the provincial tourism industry and learn a lot about things to do here,” Potts said.
“We’re pretty confident that for this year we will see a pretty loyal and strong customer base coming from Saskatchewan.”
As for outfitters, relief is going to come when the Canada-U.S. border opens, Anderson said.
The federal government extended the border closure another month, until at least July 21. However, in mid-June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said plans for easing border measures could be announced in the coming weeks.
While Anderson says that gives outfitters some hope, it doesn’t provide a clear direction for how businesses should prepare.
He says a reopening roadmap with target dates attached to certain COVID thresholds would help outfitters who need to hire back staff.
“The uncertainty is what is placing stress on outfitters,” he said.
However, once outfitters open back up to Americans, Anderson expects they will have some of the most profitable years because of the demand.
Saskatchewan expects 70% of residents to be fully vaccinated by the end of July
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