“We did it, baby,” said Jon Tulk of Kate’s Burger Counter in a video posted to social media on Labour Day.

“Summer of 2022, we’re done.”

He then jumps back into Lake Kashagawigamog in celebration.

Service providers and tourism businesses across Haliburton County are now looking back on the busiest months of the year.

It was the first summer season in three years without capacity restrictions, mandatory masking, and other rules that have changed the face of business in the Highlands.

Haliburton County’s manager of tourism, Tracie Bertrand, said this summer’s tourism traffic seemed to match 2021.

“What I’m hearing is summer 2022 is similar to summer 2021 for visitation,” she said.

However, interest in the Highlands as a tourism destination has been increasing year-over-year

She reports website traffic on myhaliburtonhighlands.com, the County’s tourism website, is up 34 per cent from 2021’s numbers.

She added it’s clear Haliburton County is drawing a healthy number of tourists. “There are a lot of visitors in our region. Our focus should not be on driving more visitation in the summer season, but increasing the visitor experience,” she said.

“It’s understanding what it’s like to be part of the community, so they become proud of the community they’re visiting.

Plan to get more off-season visitors

“That drives visitor loyalty… that drives visitation year-over-year.”

Tegan Legge, general manager of the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve, said the forest is, “back to business of pre-COVID,” with tours and camping booked solid throughout the summer.

One unique trend she noticed was increased bookings on weekdays and a decreased amount on weekends.

“Everyone had plans during the weekend, they needed to make plans during the week,” she speculated.

Other tourism operators said they noticed an August-centric summer. “June and July seemed to be quiet. August has been very busy,” said Barrie Martin of Yours Outdoors, a company that provides adventure and cultural experiences.

“We often find August is the busiest month of the summer.”

He noticed the company’s flyfishing and rock-hounding tours seemed especially popular.

Staffing and costs rise

Tanya Smith, co-owner of Kate’s Burger Counter, said they didn’t feel the staffing pinch until the week before Labour Day, but acknowledged many restaurants across Haliburton County had to limit hours due to shortages.

Smith said a big challenge was rising costs, most notably with oil for their deep-fryer.

“Like everybody else, our prices are a little bit higher than last year to compensate,” she said.

Legge dealt with staff shortages. “We’re feeling the pinch, we don’t have enough staff on-site,” she said, adding that some senior staff members retired.

Bertrand said she’s met with other regional partners about how to combat staffing struggles.

“Tourism was hit very hard I believe,” she said.

“There were operators that were letting us know, it’s hard to provide that amazing visitor experience when you’re so short-staffed.”

Now Haliburton County faces the fall, which brings a new host of those eager to see changing leaves or check out multiple events, such as Hike Haliburton or The Studio Tour.

For Smith, chilly weather brings new possibilities. “We’re hoping with the studio tour, people come up for that, or people who weren’t necessarily up here in the summer.”