Members of Haliburton County’s tourism sector are reporting a mixed season so far for summer 2022.

Don Critchley of Cottage Care Rentals said that for them, “business is doing very well. We are back to what was normal prior to COVID.”

Critchley added they are back to a stream of steady bookings for the summer, but as was the pre-COVID norm, they tend to book the holes during June and July.

Critchley added they convinced cottage owners not to increase rental rates by a huge amount, especially as other travel options have reopened. He said they capped it at five to 10 per cent on average. He further noted that since July 1, 2021, they have had to charge HST on rent, so there was an automatic 13 per cent increase with an overall affect on guests of 18 to 23 per cent on average.

He said another reason they didn’t overinflate rates is they have 75 per cent return guests and didn’t want them to go somewhere else.

With the recent run up of mortgage rates, the local businessman said they have seen a spike in the last couple of weeks for requests to rent people’s cottages out. “We had anticipated this when the real estate market went ballistic, and it is now coming true,” he said.

Emily Stonehouse of Yours Outdoors and Haliburton Forest said that from their perspective, “it’s been a pretty slow summer so far. It’s a weird time. We can’t compare this summer to the past two years and it’s all totally different in the world.”

She said she thinks restaurants are seeing people coming out, but tour providers and accommodations are slow to start.

“We are noticing an influx of last-minute bookings though. Seems that people are waiting for COVID numbers, weather, and availability before joining last minute. We used to be booked weeks in advance, but just today, I took two bookings for the next two days. We can’t always accommodate those, and it’s hard to plan around,” she said.

Stonehouse added she has heard a lot of grumbling about gas prices and that may be keeping some people away.

“We’re also seeing a big shift back to international travel. People aren’t as worried about airports anymore. Before, they sought out escaping to our woods as a retreat, but now we’re back to the way travel was before.”

Stonehouse said the local industry “has to make more of an effort to emphasize the great things we have here, things beyond just being an escape and marketing the region as a multi-dimensional destination once again.”

Some having very busy seasons, but not all

Molly McInerney of Molly’s Bistro Bakery said they have been busy. “So many happy old faces we haven’t seen in a long while have returned and lots of new faces. It is so great to see people out and about enjoying life again,” she said.

And Katie Hinbest, one of the owners of Robinsons General Store in Dorset, said it’s been going well. “Our July long weekend was a record for the store. Hopefully we continue to see that throughout the summer.”

The County’s director of tourism, Tracie Bertrand, said she’s spoken to many in the industry and they are telling her the season so far is a very busy one. “Many travellers are comfortable with getting back out and resuming most of their activities.”

She noted festivals and events have returned, and people are dining out, and booking accommodation, some into 2024.

Like Stonehouse, though, she said it’s not consistently high and some people still aren’t comfortable travelling.

“Some data indicates that full recovery won’t take place until at least 2025,” Bertrand said.

She added the cost of living, including gas, “has most definitely had an impact on travel in 2022.”

She noted some business owners are still struggling with workforce shortages, which is impacting hours of operation, as well as increased costs due to inflation, added stress due to debt from COVID, and managing the visitor demand.

However, overall, she thinks the Highlands is doing “very well” this tourism season.

“It is busy, the downtowns are hopping, the restaurants are full, and many are attending the festivals and events.”