Ontario resort was saved by the summer

From left, Jo-anne Snyder, Dave, Karen and Krista Morgan in front of Beachwood’s main lodge.

BUCKHORN, Ont. — The spring months were difficult for Beachwood Resort as weddings and conferences cancelled due to COVID-19. But they were able to open up and salvage the summer, with a few changes in their guest profile and operating procedures.

In February, 2020, Beachwood Resort, located near Buckhorn, Ont., north of Peterborough, had lots of booked business, said Krista Morgan, whose family owns the resort. There were weddings, quilters, business meetings, and school groups, as three colleges use Beachwood for training purposes. They expected their business to start in April, with a group of 25 quilters, who like to come in the shoulder seasons of April and November. Business groups of 50 to 60 people had booked for the spring as well. Weddings were planned for May and June. Then in July and August, the summer guests, many of them regulars, would come to occupy the lodge and cottages.

On March 14, like most others in the hospitality business, they started seeing a lot of cancellations. “Every wedding was cancelled — we put them over until next year. The U.S. people — some repeat guests for many years — didn’t know if they would be able to come. Everything was so uncertain. Some people didn’t feel comfortable — we rescheduled them. People would say they lived with a 93 or 94 year old mom or dad, and didn’t want to expose them — we moved their reservation from this year to next year. For groups in June, we just said, if you can come, come, up until the week before.”

The 85-room resort, which normally operates from April until December, was closed in March, April and most of May. “It was extremely difficult because of the uncertainty,” Morgan told CLN. “We decided there was no reason we couldn’t open the cottages, as we had remote check-in and the cottages were self sufficient. We opened on May 22. There was no guidance — it was up to our interpretation.

“Starting at the beginning of May, we were doing take-out, which worked out quite well. We had a road sign saying were were open from Thursday until Sunday. We put the boxes of food in their trucks and they drove off. They had paid ahead remotely — there was very limited or no contact.

“People started coming into the cottages — we had lots of openings. We created a patio outside, and slowly reopened, complying with the regulations, using the proper Canada-approved cleaning protocols and chemicals. Business picked up in mid-July, when our phone started ringing, and it hasn’t stopped until now,” Morgan said on Labour Day.

“We had our busiest-ever August — we even had guests stay for three nights and move to a different room each night. We had so many new people, who had never come before, and it was a great opportunity to introduce them to Beachwood. They were supposed to go to Italy or B.C., but were forced to find something closer to home.”

Morgan praised Resorts of Ontario for the support they provided to members during this difficult time. “We didn’t have any ads out there, and Resorts of Ontario helped a great deal as advocates for our type of resort, and by providing reopening protocols and procedures. We had weekly conference calls with resorts like ours, giving us a chance to listen and ask questions. If Resorts of Ontario didn’t know the answers, they would go to the Ministry with their questions. The support they gave us was enormous — you felt like you belonged as everyone was experiencing the same things.

“We were not allowed to put out our trampoline and water playground until the end of July, and we weren’t allowed to do water skiing and tubing. We also didn’t do our children’s program, which we usually run Monday to Friday. Everything else — paddle boards, kayaks and canoes — was permitted. We had sanitization stations — we even had one for the life jackets. We gave everyone the tools and asked them to do social distancing. We were all wearing masks and had plexiglass at the front desk. Inside dining was at every other table, and we created a outdoor patio, with lots of space. We had staggered reservation times for dining, starting at 5 p.m.”

The popular long-table dinner, held every Monday and featuring a pickerel fish fry, became a short-table dinner. Every group had their own table this year. “We still had 80 people per night on Mondays. One group of six came all summer long by boat,” Morgan said.

Beachwood didn’t have to lay off any of their regular staff, but they had a hard time finding student help, thanks to the CERB option. They ended up with enough staff and things worked out fine, Morgan said. Some of the summer staff, who are doing university courses remotely, have ended up staying at their cottages in the area and being available to work.

Now that it’s Labour Day, business is winding down. There were 50 people for breakfast and dinner over the weekend, 15 on Sept. 7 and only eight booked for breakfast on Sept. 8. “We’ll have maybe 20 per cent occupancy,” Morgan said. “Normally we stay open until mid-December. This year we will open daily until Thanksgiving, and after Thanksgiving we will be available for groups of 15 or more.”

Next year looks very busy, and Morgan expects it will be that way for a few years at least, since it may take time for travellers to want to venture further afield. “We had a lot of people who hadn’t been here before, who can’t wait to come next year. We have all the cottages rented from July 3 until September next year, and that’s never happened before.”

Asked if any of the COVID changes will last into the future, Morgan said. “We’ll definitely keep the patio — I’ve wanted a patio for years!”