Renfrew County tour operator looks to urban customers seeking city escapes following pandemic

While many tourism operators are still shuttered amid efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, a Renfrew County business owner predicts there will be more long-term interest in the region among urban Ottawa and Toronto residents following the pandemic.

Wilderness Tours president Joe Kowalski was already coming off the worst season in the company’s history – which dates back to the 1970s – due to the 2019 flooding along the Ottawa River.

He says seasonal businesses such as his will be particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 closures as virtually all the company’s annual revenues come from three months of operations. 

“When you lose the summer, you’ve lost your whole year,” Kowalski says.

While he says he understands and respects the need for measures to prevent the infection from spreading – such as keeping the Wilderness Tours resort closed for now – Kowalski says he believes that people can still experience the outdoors safely.

“What I’m hoping for is that people will want to go to nature (and) won’t want to be packed into cities,” he says, adding that it could be part of a long-term shift. “I think cities will become less dense and that it will be a big benefit to rural Ontario.”

Watch the second of OBJ Regional’s two-part interview between Kowalski and Mark Van Dusen by watching the video above.