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Local hotel industry adapts to COVID-19 impacts

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It’s no secret that COVID-19 has affected businesses around the world at different levels. While air travel has been one of the hardest hit, the hospitality industry has taken its toll on hotels and restaurants, including those in smaller centres like the Swan River Valley.
For businesses like the Super 8 Motel, Timberland Inn and Westwood Inn, owners and operators have had to endure an unprecedented drop in business.
“We’re down approximately 40 percent in room reservations,” said Brent Scales, spokesperson for the ownership group of the Westwood Inn. “However there are many other aspects of business that are also
down substantially. VLT’s, the tavern, restaurant, banquet room rentals, pool parties and catering.”
Thankfully, one aspect of the Westwood that has held strong has been the vendor sales. With people
staying closer to home this summer, a well publicized increase in alcohol sales in general have been way up across the province.
Naomi Griffith, who operates the Super 8 stated that, as of Aug. 31, they’re down over 1,900 room nights compared to last year. Clearly, those sorts of numbers can be devastating but they’re doing what they can to stay positive. “We cannot do anything about what might include minor and school sports this winter,” said Griffith. “The effects of COVID-19 is out of our control. We’re hoping that people travelling on business will pick back up.”
With the abundance of good snowmobile trails, Griffith said they’re putting some focus into luring those who want to experience the Valley this winter. “We’ve been using targeted Facebook posts quite a bit this past summer to let everyone know what the Valley has to offer – from canoeing, hiking, quadding, fishing, Magnetic Hill, etc. and our plan is to continue this into the fall and winter months,” added Griffith.
Elaine Forsyth, who owns and operates the Timberland Inn along with her husband Brad, said while the hotel industry is down as a whole, the clientele they serve really only dipped in the early stages of the pandemic. “There was a very slow start to the construction season for us. April room sales were down considerably from 2019,” said Forsyth. “Many projects were delayed due to COVID-19 lock down, namely road construction and the CN Rail work. The cancellation of the spring hunting season (for our American
customers) was also a considerable loss for our industry.”
According to Forsyth, outside of the cancelled Northwest Round-up and Exhibition dates, the summer
bookings were comparable to previous years, thankfully.
With the Westwood Inn and Timberland Inn having attached restaurants, owners at each decided to
go in completely different directions over the past six months.
According to Scales, a full restaurant make-over was in the works already and, if nothing else during
the pandemic, it allowed them to expediate the process and have been closed since late March. “We had been planning on renovating the restaurant and introducing a new menu, and this gave us the opportunity to do it,” said Scales. “We also have seven guest room washrooms left to renovate which will
take place in late October. Then, some carpet and hallways to finish off and then that should be it for
awhile,” added Scales. 
As for marketing, the Westwood Inn have been looking at a few different things, though Scales admits
it’s a little difficult as the rules are changing constantly.
COVID-19 has had a devastating affect on the hospitality industry around the world and it will take many years to recover. “Having to lay off employees in March was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And then having the phones not ring day in and day out was deafening to my ears,” said Griffith.
As for the Forsyths, while adapting on the fly in the early days of COVID-19 wasn’t something they’d wish on anyone, if nothing else, it forced them to look at different ways to market their often very busy
restaurant.
“We did make a few changes. We began offering a delivery service during lock-down period and we added an online ordering system called Ordereze,” said Forsyth.
“We also increased our newspaper advertising, made more social media posts on Facebook, created an Instagram account, and most recently added portable partitions to increase the number of tables in the restaurant.”
While the mandatory mask wearing is in the rearview mirror, for now anyway, what is still, and has been, hurting the restaurant industry is the number of customers allowed in facilities.
“Overall, our restaurant sales are down slightly but it has come with huge roller coasterlike sales, depending of the current COVID-19 situations,” said Forsyth.
“Obviously when we were open for take-out only, our sales suffered severely. We bounced back
nicely for the summer then slowed slightly again during the mandatory face mask orders. “But, the decrease in number of tables in our restaurant is still an issue,” concluded Forsyth.
While the local hospitality industry has had to work their way through the challenges, it goes without saying they’re doing everything they can to carve out new ways of contributing to the local
economy.

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Brian Gilroy
REPORTER
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