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Tourism drops but outfitter remains optimistic

Chris Farrell of Margaree Outfitters has been feeling the COVID-19 crunch. – © J. Rene Roy

Chris Farrell estimates that he’s lost about 75 percent of his tourism business thanks to the pandemic. The owner of Margaree Outfitters is currently in his fifth year of operation, which is turning out to be his most challenging one yet, including his first summer on the water.

Although the Southwest Coast hasn’t reported a single case of COVID-19, the provincial health authorities prohibited non-residents from entering, which effectively derailed the tourist season. Prior to the pandemic, Farrell says he was booked solid, but soon began receiving phone calls, emails and social media message cancellations.

“They’ll rebook when everything gets straightened out,” he shrugs. “I’ve got duck hunters booked for 2022.”

Margaree Outfitters offers eider sea duck hunting, cod jigging, shark fishing and boat tours to nearby historic fishing villages. Business has grown consistently enough that Farrell was able to buy a new boat in anticipation of this summer’s tourist season, a 23-foot cabin cruiser called the Jeremiah.

“The duck hunting has been the big thing for me, more than the cod fishing or the boat tours I find,” says Farrell.

He is standing dockside on a mid-morning Sunday, awaiting his second and last couple of fishers for the day, who will bring the entire weekend’s scheduled bookings to a grand total of five people.

The provincial government’s attempt to help by promoting staycation opportunities to Newfoundlanders doesn’t seem to be helping either. Farrell says he’s seen no increase in local traffic, and even the opening of the Atlantic bubble isn’t making a noticeable difference.

“No. I haven’t really had anybody this summer,” he admits. “Every other summer, I’d come here, some days I didn’t know how I was going to fit everybody in.”

Like other tourism based operators, Farrell has taken advantage of a government subsidy program to stay in business until the tourists can come back. He hopes to salvage the fall duck hunting season, or at least some portion of it.

“I’ve still got quite a few bookings for this winter,” says Farrell, pausing for a moment. “But like I said, we don’t know how much worse this is going to get.”

Despite the setback, Farrell is perhaps one of the luckier ones. He still takes out a few locals or tourists when he can, and spends days just enjoying his own boat out on the water. Meanwhile only a short jaunt down the coast to Rose Blanche – Harbour Le Cou reveals that the historic lighthouse attraction remains closed for the season.

“I was talking to a couple of people I had out. They were down the East Coast. They said there were a lot of places not even open. There’s not enough business to have it open,” says Farrell. “Could be years before this all gets going again.”

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