In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many tourism operators have had to adapt their businesses in order to be sustainable – and Eric and Sue Lund are no strangers to adapting their business.
For the past 33 years, the Lunds have been owners/operators of the Esnagami Wilderness Lodge in Nakina, roughly four hours northeast of Thunder Bay, ON. The fly-in-only camp provides access to 120 miles of shoreline and hundreds of islands, a scene that lures both pro anglers and first-time fisher-folk alike. Nearly 85% of the guests at Esnagami are return visitors and 65% of visitors typically come from the U.S. With uncertainties on how long the Canada/U.S border would be closed, Eric Lund notes that, “It became very apparent that we would be facing a much different operational season at Esnagami Lodge. With the Canadian/U.S. border closed, and no solid guidance on when it might reopen, we reluctantly began to accept that our U.S friends and guests would not be able to join us. Shifting gears, we focused on generating as much Canadian business as we could in a short period of time.”
Shifting gears for the lodge involved a little bit of luck and altering their marketing strategies to focus on Northern Ontario. As Lund notes, “In November/December of 2020, my wife and I were sitting down and trying to think the next season through. Unsure if the border would open or not, we took a pretty big gamble and offered moving a majority of our U.S guests to 2022.”
The Lund’s next challenge? What to do with the freed-up space.
They turned their efforts to market in Ontario, offered some trip giveaways in partnership with Ontario Out of Doors Magazine, and utilized social media to get word out on the lodge. Pivoting their marketing was a key strategy in attracting Ontarians, many of whom were turning to their own backyards for the first time for travel ideas.
Who says Uber-Eats is only for the city?
The Lunds also worked with local public health officials in order to change some of their protocols in the lodge, including some creative strategies for keeping guests and locals alike safe. The Esnagami Lodge team offered Uber-eats, “lodge style” where staff would deliver freshly-prepared meals to each of the cabins. As the Lund’s joke, “We implemented an efficient system to deliver hot meals to the cabins. Once Troy (Esnagami’s 4-year returning chef) plated and packed the thermal bag, the girls took turns running the food to each cabin. After a couple of weeks of this process, any one of them would have led their cross country running teams to first place!”
The lodge also took care of getting items that guests might need, such as groceries and fuel. As a result, they were able to help generate income for the local community while simultaneously reducing the traffic of travellers within the community.
After an unpredictable year with a lot of uncertainties, Lund thanks his Ontario and Canadian clientele for taking a chance and trying something new. “We’re really thankful. It’s been a pleasure to have people join us to such a degree this year. I’m really impressed with the response…and I think this bodes well for industry,” comments Lund.
The future of tourism in Northern Ontario?
Lund is hopeful for the future of outdoor tourism in the North, noting that, “I think the industry as a whole is going to continue to be relevant – not just fishing, but outdoor activities, sports, camping, motorsports, biking, hiking, hunting. People are starting to see the importance of getting out and [they’re] doing just that.”
A veteran in the fishing tourism business, Lund has noticed some shifts in guest demographics. Increasingly, both younger guests and young families are visiting the lodge. In addition, Lund notices individuals in their 20’s and 30’s are getting involved in the outdoor tourism workforce. Combined, these new generations of guests and tourism operators will be integral to the face of outdoor tourism in the future.
For more information on tourism in Northern Ontario, check out Destination Northern Ontario.
About Destination Northern Ontario (DNO)
Destination Northern Ontario is one of 13 not-for-profit regional tourism organizations funded by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. We are the largest tourism region in geography, the second largest in expenditure and the only region that includes sub-regions.
Northern Ontario will be a unique and distinctive tourism destination wherein high-quality products and experiences resonate with consumers, entrepreneurship is valued, and tourism provides local, regional and global connections for the entire region. Destination Northern Ontario will take a leadership role to strategically guide and champion growth in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry, through strong communication, collaboration and partnerships with industry.