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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 25, 2020
In March, when the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic were just starting to hit Newfoundland and Labrador, Becky O’Keefe and her partner, Alex Chafe, were getting into some really great conditions for what would be the busy part of their winter season.
O’Keefe and Chafe own Wild Gros Morne Outdoor Experiences, an outdoor adventure company based in Shoal Brook on the south side of Bonne Bay. They also own the Water’s Edge RV Park and Campground and Bonne Bay Market.
“When normally we’d be getting new winter reservations and summer reservations, we were doing cancellations and refunds hand over fist,” said O’Keefe.
With the way things were looking O’Keefe figured the province would be on a lockdown and people wouldn’t be able to get out and move around.
“It was a tough spring, not knowing what was happening.”
But as things improved and talk of staycations became the norm, she was hopeful.
And when the time came, she and Chafe made the conscious decision that if they were allowed to open, if staycations were allowed and they could safely operate, they would reopen for their staff and their communities.
“Because if people are allowed to move around, we wanted to make sure that there was stuff for people to do here.”
They decided to give it a shot, admittedly with low expectations because historically the vast majority of their summer visitors in all aspects of the business are from out of the province and out of the country.
Surprisingly, business, while below the usual levels, has been fantastic, O’Keefe said.
“We have seen more Newfoundlanders than we have ever seen.”
It does come and go, and some days are busier than others, but she says she sees a positive in it.
“I think it may be a market that we don’t really look at as much.”
The majority of visitors are first-timers to Gros Morne, and they’ve been providing phenomenal feedback. Some have even booked to come back in the fall and winter.
“Maybe we’re going to start a new trend as well for those people who are going home and talking about what they’ve seen and what they’ve done, and hopefully motivating others to come out this way.”
She said operating during the COVID-19 pandemic is not without challenges and they’ve had to make some adjustments, with their groups being smaller to allow for social distancing.
“We’re on the water more than we’ve ever been because of the exceptionally small groups. But we’re very excited that we’ve opened and within our communities we’ve seen other (businesses) open. We’re seeing people here, so I think it’s positive in the big scheme of things.”
At the Newfoundland Insectarium just outside Deer Lake, owner Lloyd Hollett said they have been exceeding expectations in terms of visitors to the facility during the pandemic.
“We thought we’d have a so-so summer, but it’s turned out to be pretty good.”
Hollett wasn’t thinking the insectarium would even be allowed to open this summer, and when the province moved to Alert Level 3 of its public health emergency, he had to check twice to make sure the information he’d been given was correct.
It took about 10 days to get the insectarium ready to open on June 20, and in the first two weeks it couldn’t get butterflies.
“We just couldn’t get them in from our regular supplier, so we switched to a supplier from England.”
During shipping they lost 20 to 40 per cent of the 400 butterflies they ordered.
The insectarium has since gotten shipments from the Philippines that arrive direct by air in two days. That means when they order 800 butterflies, they get 800 butterflies.
In a one-week period, 1,400 chrysalises came in that are now starting to hatch.
“The butterfly garden is going to be spectacular,” said Hollett, who expects there will be 800 to 1,000 there this weekend.
But with the late opening, the insectarium missed out on some business, which will affect its overall numbers.
Hollett said in a usual year 25,000 people visit by the end of the season, and since opening they’ve seen about 7,000.
“If we get 10,000 or 12,000 people through, that will be what we’re going to get this year.”
But he’ll still be pleased with that.
“There are days that are busier than last year’s days. The last couple of weeks especially has been pretty crazy. (Last) Saturday was busier than any day we had last year.”
Weekends are generally busier.
“And a lot with us depends on the weather. Yesterday it was raining and cool and we had a lineup for over five hours,” he said on Wednesday.
Most of those visiting are staycationers — mostly people from the Avalon, St. John’s, Paradise and C.B.S. — with just a few from the Atlantic bubble.
“And what we’re finding nice is a lot of them are new to the insectarium, never been to the insectarium before. Which for us is great because I think once they see what we have, the next time they’re driving through they’re coming in again.”
He’s playing it by ear right now, but is looking at closing on Labour Day because the insectarium won’t see the fall visitors it usually does from Ontario and the United States.
If schools don’t open, he may stay open for another week or two, or still close on Labour Day and open up for a couple of weekends for local visitors as long as there are live butterflies.
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