Stories of Resilience: Eagle Wing Tours
When Eagle Wing Whale & Wildlife Watching Tours in Victoria, BC was asked how COVID-19 has impacted their business, they replied with one word, “Decimated.” Not only have tourism businesses been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, but marine operators, in particular, are struggling to survive.
Eagle Wing Tours ceased operations after their last tour on March 18, 2020, and remained closed until June 30th with no income, no ability to repurpose their boats for other revenue-generating opportunities, refunding deposits, cancelling reservations and laying off staff.
Eagle Wing turned to the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program for support.
“Thanks to the tourism resiliency program, one of our biggest wins has been collaborating with other marine operators; not necessarily just whale watchers,” reports General Manager Nathan Bird. “We gathered kayaking guides, fishermen, bear watchers and more for as many voices as possible.”
Through the Pacific Whale Watching Association (PWWA), the group created a master document as a “blueprint” for reopening marine-based businesses. This document was vetted and approved by the Provincial Health Office and WorkSafeBC. Eagle Wing was then able to create their own, company-specific protocols using this template.
Eagle Wing Tours innovatively introduced a new role: Boat Health & Safety Officer, whichhas been met with enthusiasm by both staff and guests. Additionally, instead of simply reopening on July 1st, Eagle Wing recalled as many employees as possible (21 vs. 49 in 2019) and engaged their input and feedback on all protocols prior to resuming operations.
All team members then signed off on their new training as a condition of employment, as a sign of commitment and confidence that Eagle Wing Tours is offering the safest operations possible for marine adventure tourism. Their safety pledge to guests can be viewed here.
Even with reopening for what remains of the season, there is no assurance Eagle Wing Tours will remain solvent until next year. “It is a frightening possibility and not knowing is extremely stressful for our ownership and entire sector,” concludes Bird. “However, tourism is an industry that is dedicated to collaboration, and the support we’ve received through the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program has only enhanced this statement and given us the determination to fight for long-term resiliency.”