The first of what could be many regional tourism dominos has fallen as a result of COVID-19.
The SS Keewatin, which has been docked in Port McNicoll since 2012, will not open for the upcoming season following a decision by its board of directors in conjunction with Skyline Investments, which owns the vessel.
“It’s a tough decision, but one, overall, we felt was something we had to do,” Friends of Keewatin CEO Eric Conroy said.
Conroy said that while difficult, the decision was made because the not-for-profit charitable foundation didn’t feel it would recoup operating costs in an abbreviated season.
“It costs $50,000 or more to get open,” Conroy said. “Cocooning is probably the best word for it (not opening this season).”
And while any operating loss for the current year should be low since the group doesn’t pay municipal taxes or docking fees and the insurance is paid up, Conroy said the decision will create a financial impact for some, since the S.S. Keewatin normally employs eight students and four adults for the season as well as providing work for various service companies.
Built in Scotland, the vessel was launched on July 6, 1907, five years before the Titanic. It was retired in 1966 after spending almost 60 seasons transporting passengers.
Since returning to its Port McNicoll home port from the United States, the Edwardian-era passenger ship has proven to be a bona fide hit with both area residents and those from further afield.
The charitable group also invested recently in headsets to help with tour operations that normally consist of groups of 20 visiting the ship, which Conroy noted can take them into some tight spaces while onboard.
But Conroy said it just wasn’t feasible to consider operating for an abbreviated season beginning in July or August, given the SS Keewatin’s already relatively short mid-May to mid-October operating season.
Conroy said he expects tourism to be severely affected across Canada this year since the coronavirus will undoubtedly linger for months.
“You can see it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” he said, noting people will be keeping a very close eye on their discretionary income as the crisis continues.
“There’s no way we will get the world back to normal by July. The best thing you can do is protect yourself as much as possible.”