Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
While there is no doubt COVID-19 had its impacts on businesses in Canada and the United States, those impacts are different in nature and have a wide range of repercussions.
Bryce Campbell owns four businesses, two in Ontario and two in Minnesota.
The businesses in Ontario are the Copper River Inn in Fort Frances and The Walla Walla Inn in Rainy River. Campbell said he has been in Minnesota since March trying to manage resorts recently purchased in January.
His mother, Sheila, and husband, Steven, are managing the businesses in Ontario.
Campbell said the businesses have been responding differently to COVID-19 across the border.
“In the United States, we are able to draw from the twin cities, whereas in Canada we are not able to draw anything right now and with all the shut downs there is no business whatsoever,” Bryce said.
“Basically because the [resorts] are drivable destinations, we have seen a surge in demand. So people will think twice before flying overseas or going to a destination like Vegas. But to drive three or four hours to Lake Superior they are definitely extremely interested in that so the demand is surging right now. Whereas in Canada there is zero demand. It is the complete opposite.”
For example, the Copper River Inn completely shut down their food and beverage service.
Campbell said they cannot open this service unless they have at least a 50 per cent occupancy rate in the hotel. Right now, the occupancy is about 30 per cent.
Campbell said they are doing a grab-and-go breakfast in the morning for those staying at the Copper River Inn.
“Without that clientele and occupancy, we cannot operate food and beverage anymore which has been a challenge,” Campbell said. “That is where we decided we would start looking into limited-service property. Without the occupancy we would lose much more money on our food and beverage. We originally closed food and beverage when we had to close it, but we did not see a point of reopening it up without the occupancy needed to sustain it.”
Campbell said last month’s occupancy rate was at 40 percent. Last year for the same month of August, the Copper River Inn was at about 80 per cent capacity. Campbell said he suspects the occupancy rate to be 30 per cent this September. In September 2019, occupancy was 70 per cent.
To put things in perspective, The Copper River Inn sleeps about 200 individuals at full capacity. When the capacity is at 80 per cent, there would be about 150 people in the hotel. When the capacity is at 40 per cent, the number of guests at the hotel would be about 30.
“I have never seen anything like that,” Campbell said. “That’s our biggest downfall. You go to the United States we actually probably sleep 800 guests, so right now we have at least 1,500 people sleeping in the resort, so it’s the complete opposite. We’re full to the brim on the U.S. properties, but our food and beverage is still losing money just because we can’t actually feed those guests because we have so many restrictions too.”
Campbell said when COVID-19 first hit, all four businesses lost about $1.8 million. He said he estimates the revenue from the U.S. businesses to be about $2 million. He said they still have to overcome food and beverage losses.
“It was insane how quickly you can lose money. In Canada we’d be lucky if we reach $100,000 in revenue,” Campbell chuckled.
“We see the Ontario properties are basically bleeding right now. There is not much we can do but ride with the tide. I do strongly believe that by sometime next year that we are going to be in a way better place at least on the U.S. side. I don’t know about the Canada side. I think it is going to be a long recovery when we are looking at just hotels.”
Campbell purchased Superior Shore Resorts in Minnesota in January. He said with purchasing any business, the biggest concern is if a recession happens. He said had he seen into the future of what COVID-19 would look like, he would have held off expanding his businesses.
“I think knowing what I know now, it would be smart to renegotiate and put everything on hold for exactly a year,” Campbell said. “The tourism sector is in our favour so that drivable Midwest destinations tend to do very well in the future. That is the silver lining of the timing.”
Campbell said if he had one piece of advice for small business owners, it would be to utilize and apply to the programs they are eligible for, such as the wage subsidy. He said the programs offered by the federal and provincial governments helped cover half of the losses.
“We are doing the due diligence to make sure the business will still be around when this is all over and things get back on track,” Campbell said. “The people who will make it are those who are going to fight and just make sure that they do everything they can to hang on to their businesses until it is all over. It is a good time to come out stronger in the end.”