This summer could be the first somewhat normal summer in over two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is very good news for the northwestern Ontario tourism industry.

Back on April 1, 2022, the federal government removed the COVID-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers entering Canada. Provincially, the majority of COVID restrictions were removed in most indoor public settings back on March 21, 2022.

The slow decline of COVID-19 in the region is especially good news for the Eagle Lake Island Lodge, as they are excited about what this summer has in store for them, now that the border is open to tourists.

“We’re super excited,” says Charlene Snow, Eagle Lake Island Lodge General Manager. “We’re 100 per cent ready to go and chomping at the bit, now let's get this ice off the lake and some warm weather.”

The changes to the testing requirement are expected to boost international tourism across Canada and hopefully, in northwestern Ontario as well. Statistics Canada says over 169,000 international visitors arrived in February, representing a 1200 per cent increase in travelers compared to this time last year.

Since the April 1 announcement, Snow says she has had a significant increase in inquiries, but still some hesitancy from their American visitors.

“We had a few guests that we're happy to hear and were waiting for things to settle down on all fronts before they made their booking.”

“For our guests that went through the process last year, they were super excited to hear they wouldn’t have to deal with that because it was a lot to juggle.”

On August 9, 2021, the Canada/US border initially opened up to fully vaccinated American travelers. Travelers wishing to come into Canada had to submit all required documents into their ArriveCAN app, which caused long wait times for tourists. One social medial post shared that the wait time at the International Falls/Fort Frances crossing was around 8 hours long.

Though some guests are hesitant to venture into the great white north, Snow adds that most of their cliential are very excited to get back into NWO.

“It’s is pure joy, they just can’t wait. It is thank goodness we can get up...thank goodness the border is open, the PCR testing is not there, so it’s way easier logistically. They’re ecstatic to get up here.”

Due to the need to be fully vaccinated to enter Canada, Snow notes that the lodge has lost about 30 per cent of its previous reservations, due to those American guests that were unvaccinated.

“A lot of our group sizes went down. We’re definitely going to be a way better season than the last two years. It’s not going to be 2019 numbers.”

A reduction in reservations isn’t the only thing that has affected the lodge due to COVID-19. Like most resorts in the area, the Eagle Lake Island Lodge went through many hardships during the pandemic.

“Thankfully we had a couple of staff that stayed with us through this. I think that’s the biggest challenge now, staffing and how do we get our team back. Now the rising costs of everything the fuel, and the supplies.”

At one point during the pandemic, she said that she and her husband Jim who are both managers of the lodge contemplated laying her off to try and cut costs.

Another big challenge the lodge was and still is facing is to maintain those relationships with their American tourists that they haven’t seen in over two years.

“The politics of it all has certainly created some hard feelings and some distaste for both sides of our country's lines, it’s just keeping that engagement.”

Moving into this year the lodge is facing its worst staffing shortage in the history of the lodge. 

“The applicants we get are from overseas and aren’t able to work here. We actually still have a couple of positions to fill, it’s scary. Our biggest product is our customer service at our lodge, we rely on having good staff, trained and in place. It’s tough when you don’t have enough people to deliver that service.”

The Eagle Lake Island Lodge will kick off its 2022 season on May 20, 2022, as that is when its first group of guests arrives. The lodge will close its doors for the season in October.