Peak Season Preparation: Adapting your business creatively with COVID-19 Restrictions

With the third wave of COVID-19, ITA recognizes the importance of innovative ideas to adapt to the province-wide restrictions this upcoming peak season. It is easy to focus on the negative impacts on tourism due to COVID-19; however, we must remind ourselves of the opportunities in tourism development and pivoting businesses to create new and exciting experiences adapted to our current situation. 

Domestic tourism has been increasing with borders shut and international travel not being recommended by various governments. Pre-Covid-19, 84.7% of the tourism industry in Alberta was driven by Albertans traveling within the province. Albertan residents made more visits within Alberta than by other Canadians, U.S., and overseas visitors combined. 

The Indigenous tourism industry within Alberta has the fastest growing membership in the country, according to ITAC 2020 stats on provincial Indigenous tourism organization memberships. Alberta has the potential to develop into a premier Indigenous tourism destination throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by first focusing on domestic visitor markets and creating innovative experiences that are safe for operators and visitors. 

More Albertans are interested in learning how to have meaningful connections with the land and intimate experiences after periods of isolation. As a result, the Indigenous tourism industry in Alberta is re-pivoting to focus on supportive relationships with local communities and is encouraging the creation of unique partnerships across the province.

Reskilled Life Hide Tanning Experience (photos taken in 2019, pre-COVID-19)

ITA Member Highlight with Natalie Pepin from Reskilled Life

ITA met with member Natalie Pepin, the owner of Reskilled Life, who offers experiences dedicated to preserving and sharing traditional land-based skills to reconnect visitors with their roots and get to know the lives of their ancestors, but in a modern day context. Natalie gladly shared insights from how Reskilled Life’s vision and operations pivoted and adapted during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Learnings from offering visitors virtual experiences

Last spring, before Covid-19, Reskilled Life had experiences booked for months in advance. Natalie had to adapt quickly and offer visitors virtual experiences to replace in-person experiences or to offer a credit with Reskilled Life to book again in the future. After completing the first handful of virtual experiences, Natalie shared how challenging it was to create meaningful connections and memorable experiences through a virtual platform with visitors. After the spring of 2020, Reskilled Life went back to the drawing board and took a break from offering virtual experiences. 

This year, Reskilled Life has pivoted to adapt to an online learning environment and continues hosting small groups in outdoor experiences. Natalie found that storytelling is a fundamental and interactive way to connect with visitors in an online format. In addition, many visitors are looking for a meaningful sense of culture and teachings during times of isolation. 

Reskilled Life’s adapted online content is built on a strategy with cultural teachings as the foundation, including hands-on skills-teaching components such as crafting activities, using tools, and showing land skills. Offering experiences in an online format has helped make Natalie’s teaching style more repetitive and obvious, describing the process in writing, showing the technique visually, and repeating it for visitors to understand. This technique accommodates kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners. 

Natalie recommends using resources that are already available on other online platforms so that you do not have to create all the content on your own. In addition, facilitating discussions with visitors on online platforms and sharing various learning resources with participants makes the online experience more interactive. 

Pivoting Business Plan and adapting short and long term goals with Covid-19

Before Covid-19, Reskilled Life’s short-term goal was to travel more by offering experiences all over Alberta, specifically for brain-tanning courses. During the pandemic restrictions, Natalie stayed home in northern Alberta. While Reskilled Life is now rooted in one place, Natalie connects with visitors all over the world. 

In the short term, Reskilled Life will continue offering virtual experiences to support her long-term goal of building a teaching lodge on the land. Reskilled Life has found that adapting to virtual experiences has led to more significant opportunities. Natalie invites ITA members to reimagine what you are offering to visitors, ask for help, use available resources, and use your network to support your business in adapting during this pandemic.

Insights on hosting outdoor experiences with small groups

Reskilled Life is still offering outdoor live bookings at their physical location near Athabasca, Alberta. However, Natalie has restructured in-person experiences to having smaller groups of 9 (10 people gathering outside restriction in non-hotspot areas) and has reevaluated her price per person. Natalie has also shortened the duration of her offerings to do more deliveries in a day, scheduling for three groups of 9 visitors.

“Wahkohtowin – we are all related and connected – that is where the resilience is. We are connecting meaningful ideas to the things we are doing – we are going back to the teachings to connect with people, weaving back to the story of relationships. The acts of care for one another show our resilience as human beings. I offer teachings with the visitors I connect with because there is a great hunger for our culture and teachings. People are hungry for connection because they cannot get it physically right now. Offer something for connection because people need it during this time.” – Natalie Pepin

(photos taken in 2019, pre-COVID-19)

Recommended tips for this upcoming tourism season:

  • Utilizing virtual platforms for hands-on experiences
  • Adapting your businesses short term and long term goals
  • Use your network to help support your business during these times
  • Host small, intimate, outdoor experiences that follow the current provincial health guidelines
  • Shorten the duration of your experiences to allow for more bookings in the day
  • Reevaluate your prices (you may have to charge more per person due to restricted numbers allowed)
  • Share meaningful experiences with visitors as many are looking for connection after periods of isolation due to the pandemic. 
  • Be creative by building relationships with other local businesses to potentially offer unique experiences for local visitors through partnerships. 
  • Many visitors have Covid-19 fatigue and are looking for positive interactions this upcoming peak season. Market your experiences with a positive and meaningful message to potential customers.

Tools and Resources

Alberta Public Health Measures

ITAC: Health and Safety Guidelines for COVID-19 Recovery

ITA: AHS Health and Safety Webinar Practices

ITA: Tourism Restart Webinar

ITA: Building Virtual Experiences Webinar