Last Frontier Heliskiing started operating out of Bell 2 Lodge in 1996. At the time, they were the first heliskiing operation in northern BC. Today, they have access to one of the largest single heliskiing tenures in the world. In 2005, Last Frontier expanded into the town of Stewart with an operation called Ripley Creek. Since then, they have been constantly improving the lodge facilities at Bell 2 Lodge and continually refining the overall experience.
Effects of COVID-19
Last Frontier decided to focus on smaller groups of four people to improve the skiing experience on their tenure that stretches over 10,000 square kilometres. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing the borders, they experienced a loss of their largest market – international travellers. This caused them to reach out to the Northern BC Tourism Resiliency Program’s specialists and team of experts to see how they could help bring regional awareness to heliskiing.
Heliskiing caters to a global audience and is a niche market. Given the small population base in Canada, Last Frontier has traditionally relied extensively on European, American and Australian clientele, where over 90% of their guests are from abroad.
“The impact on our business was immediate. We lost four weeks of operation in the spring of 2020,” says Steve Rosset from Last Frontier.
“We mobilized quickly at the onset of COVID-19 to suspend skiing operations and re-book our guests for the 2021 season at no cost. However, it is becoming likely that welcoming international guests for our upcoming 2021 season is not going to be feasible if borders remain shut.”
Regrouping and Moving Forward
When asked why Last Frontier decided to join the Tourism Resiliency Program, Steve said, “hopefully we will be able to draw more awareness on tourism businesses and how they have been impacted by COVID-19. Tourism is a big part of the BC economy and provides considerable employment, especially in remote places like Stewart and Bell 2 Lodge.”
Instead of opting to shut down this winter, they pivoted in the face of the pandemic to market to Canadian travellers at a 50% discount. This worked better than expected as they have nearly sold out their entire season! Although they will not be generating the same revenues as a typical year, they were able to keep staff employed and generate interest from the domestic market.
“Hopefully, our case study will also help other businesses understand that there is a Canadian market that is ready to fill in some of the demand vacuum left by international tourists if the right value proposition is achieved.”
Last Frontier has also been able to take advantage of the federal wage subsidy to stay operational. “Given the high staff-to-guest ratio with heliskiing operations, the federal wage subsidy program has been critical in helping them keep staff employed,” Steve explains.
Steve knows that continued success for Last Frontier’s business means remaining nimble and informed – the Tourism Resiliency Program allows Steve to have up-to-date information at his fingertips as they plan for a year that looks different. Steve and the crew are looking forward to providing exceptional experiences to their new Canadian guests this ski season.