Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park in Parksville, B.C. shut down all services and closed the park due to the COVID-19 crisis on March 17, 2020 – right at the beginning of British Columbia’s Spring Break, normally one of the busiest periods of their season. The closure of British Columbia schools also resulted in over 2,800 students cancelling field trips. These early revenues are important as they support hiring and training as the park gears up for summer.
“I had to figure out how to rebuild our business to be economically feasible and continue operations with an estimated drop in park visitors of 75 per cent,” says Park Director, Richard Varela. “Sorting through the flood of information, guidelines and protocols to determine what’s best for our business was a challenge.”
Horne Lake Caves registered for the Vancouver Island Coastal Tourism Resiliency Program (VICTRP) and Varela reports he is very grateful for the assistance of Tourism Vancouver Island, Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association and Parksville and Qualicum Beach Chambers of Commerce, who were ready to listen and help. “The biggest benefit of VICTRP was having the assurance I’m not alone, that someone is listening, that someone has my back,” he adds.
Varela also found the VICTRP webinars and tourism-focused resources to be very informative. “It was extremely helpful to get other perspectives and have a sounding board for ideas from someone who understands our industry, right here on Vancouver Island. VICTRP was there when we needed support the most,” he shares.
Horne Lake Caves reached out to its staff and other tour operators to collaboratively develop creative solutions to meet new COVID-19 realities. Even though most team members were laid off, they were still willing to join Zoom meetings, stay positive and return to work as soon as the park could determine how to do it safely.
Horne Lake Caves has adopted the highest health and safety guidelines to conduct a cave tour. In fact, all staff and visitors will practice the same protocols as hospitals and long-term care facilities, including: health pre-screening, physical distancing and offering limited sized tours, wearing gloves and masks (in addition to helmets, of course), and sanitizing hands regularly.
Horne Lake Caves created a bio-station which every visitor must pass through. This facility was installed prior to COVID-19 (to protect bats from disease) and the park is innovatively repurposing it to add hand sanitizing and inform visitors of the new hyper-hygiene protocols for those touring inside the Horne Lake Caves.
The road to long-term resiliency is long and Varela says they are in need of continued subsidies and hiring grants, as well as assistance with marketing strategies moving forward, but on June 4, 2020, Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park re-opened for business and successfully conducted its first tour. “We are very pleased with the demand we are seeing from local residents and thank them for supporting us and the tourism industry,” he concludes.