Local tourism has been up and down in 2020, with many area tourism spots hurt by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while some are seeing growth over previous years.

“I think the businesses which have been struggling are the ones which have been having a hard time getting online,” said Geneviève Duval, Executive Director for Prescott-Russell Tourism in an interview last week. “People wanted more information, but if you weren’t online people didn’t know if you were actually open – so that was a struggle for some businesses.”

Duval noted that some businesses which planned for the reopening of the province have benefited since the move to Stage 3 for business operations and tourism.

“Vankleek Hill Vineyard is one that is doing very well because they took the time to put everything on social media and they have been very busy.”

Another local business which has seen a boost in 2020 is Vankleek Hill’s Garden Path Soap, which has seen steady growth over the years and had invested a great deal in outdoor tourism of its Pleasant Corner Road site due to the pandemic. The business this year has benefited greatly from day trip visitors from Montreal and Ottawa.

“Google is our friend right now – a lot of people are just Googling to see what to do between Ottawa and Montreal and we come up, so that’s wonderful,” said owner Tara MacWhirter, who also credits partnerships for helping to boost visits over the summer. “We are very involved with TPRT and with other businesses, so we encourage people to go around to different tourism locations here, and they do the same.”

MacWhirter added her company’s products have helped boost visits – “obviously we have what people need right now – which is soap.”

But while day trips are up for many businesses, group visits and bus tour stops for the most part have been non-existent, an issue which has hit many local tourism stops pretty hard.

“We cannot do weddings, we cannot do family reunions, or any of our regular events,” said Lynda Clouette-Mackay, Director General for Le Chenail Cultural Centre in Hawkesbury. “Last summer for June, July, August, (we had) 5,700 visitors and this year we have had less than 2,000.”

Mackay said Confederation Park itself – where the cultural centre is situated – has been very busy with local visits, picnics and gatherings, but those visitors are not coming inside the building. Other regular group events at the centre, such as artist displays and concerts were cancelled during the summer and are just resuming in the fall, with limited audience sizes.

The executive director of Prescott-Russell Tourism is hopeful the lessons learned from this year will help area tourism in the future.

“In our region we are filled with local products, so it is so easy for us to say, ‘if you want this product go here, or if you want that product go there’, because we have it all here in our community,” Duval said. “We are working to promote that and make sure visitors from Montreal and Ottawa are aware of what the area has to offer.”