British Columbia has been in Phase 3 for nearly a month, and the hotels, resorts and backcountry lodges in the province have gradually reopened to welcome back guests eager for a change of scenery and a chance to relax and enjoy holiday time this summer and fall.
While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a reality, travellers continue to be cautious in the face of health and financial concerns and seek greater reassurance that their well-being is top of mind for accommodation providers. The good news is hotels have been working to meet and exceed government health guidelines to welcome guests with exceptional comfort, safety, and peace of mind.
“We have a safe and healthy destination, as well as a welcoming one,” says Ingrid Jarrett, President and CEO & Government Relations, British Columbia Hotel Association. “Our members and their employees have done a herculean amount of work to welcome people back in safety and comfort. We want B.C. residents and Canadians to travel and relax, and to be responsible.”
The association is encouraging travellers to call the hotels directly to ask any and all the questions they may have about safety protocols and what’s open at the properties before they book. Calling direct is often also the way to get the best deals that the hotel property can offer.
Here is a look at four diverse properties that are succeeding at reopening and exceeding safety standards at the same time.
Historic Okanagan Lakeside Charm
The renovated Naramata Inn on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake opened under new ownership on July 5. The owners of this historic 112-year-old property include celebrated chef Ned Bell, who will also lead the kitchen at The Restaurant at the Inn.
A four-hour drive from Vancouver, the Naramata Inn has 12 mission-style rooms, each with direct access to the upper veranda and views of the gardens, lake, and hills. There’s also a luxe two-bedroom suite that was once the home of the original innkeeper. With plenty of anticipation for its opening, the inn has nearly sold out its summer and fall seasons.
As the opening took place during the pandemic, the Globe and Mail reported that owners hired a “COVID consultant,” who will gather related information, rules and responsibilities and translate them into functioning operations.
“We are taking the challenge of COVID very seriously,” says Bell. “Inherently, the [hotel and] restaurant business is a very safe environment. We are held to incredibly high standards through the existing systems of regulations. We extend this diligent focus to all areas of our business as the safety of our staff and our visitors is everything.”
The Naramata Inn has redesigned housekeeping protocols as sustainably as possible, though there will still be disposable masks and gloves. In the restaurant, menus will be printed on synthetic paper that can survive a sanitary cleaning.
“My team and I are thrilled to bring the best of Naramata’s bounty in ingredients, wine, talents and suppliers to diners’ plates from the neighbourhood and across the province,” Bell says.
As COVID-19 continues to be unpredictable, the property recognizes that travel plans can be disrupted at the last minute. So, if necessary, guests can cancel their reservations within 24 hours of check-in date without penalty.
Whistler’s Pod Village Vibes
The affordable boutique Pangea Pod is in the centre of the action in Whistler Village. Popular with the younger set for its competitive price point, chic design, and fun vibe, the capsule pod hotel reopened on June 30, after government and public health authorities confirmed it was safe for properties to once again begin accepting guests.
“Reopening a hotel to the public while COVID-19 is still a fact of daily life is obviously an enormous responsibility. And it’s a responsibility that the entire Pangea team takes incredibly seriously,” says Russell Kling, co-owner. “Even prior to the pandemic, our job wasn’t just about providing comfort and entertainment for our guests — hospitality is also about ensuring safety.”
Pangea’s team devoted the past three months to ensuring that they’ve put in place the most rigorous health and safety measures possible — measures that exceed the recommendations of both WorkSafeBC and BC Health Authorities.
These include hand sanitizer stations, contactless payment, plexiglass barriers, and one-way traffic paths in common areas; socially distanced table placements in The Living Room café/bar; and temperature checks of every guest upon arrival. Pangea is also limiting pod capacity to 50 per cent and leaving its pods empty for 72 hours after they’re vacated in order to perform a thorough cleaning.
“We look forward to welcoming guests back to Pangea and offering them an experience that, from the moment they walk in the door, will set their mind at ease,” Kling says.
Nightly Rates: Midweek rates of $49 (or about $40 after promos if booking direct) and weekend rates of $59 (or about $50 after promos if booking direct) are available until November 29. Pangea’s cancellation policy has been relaxed to allow for full refunds on cancellation up to 24 hours prior to check-in.
Mountain High Escapes in Golden
The backcountry lodges of British Columbia have endured a difficult spring, trying to determine whether they could afford to reopen for the summer season with many of their guests unable to travel to the province. Several elected to shutter until COVID-19 concerns are alleviated, but the all-inclusive Purcell Mountain Lodge, located in Golden, reopened on July 6.
As a fly-in backcountry alpine lodge, Purcell has the added logistical challenge of ensuring that helicopter trips for guests and staff meet health and safety guidelines. This is not easy to do in the confines of a small chopper, but working with its aerial provider, Alpine Helicopters, the lodge has limited passengers and mandated masks and gloves for the 10-minute flights.
“Despite the pandemic, there’s still so much passion for travel. Many new and previous guests wanted to know that they could come, that we were going to be open for them this summer. They were comfortable booking a trip because they know what to expect at the lodge, and that we would meet and exceed the province’s WorkSafeBC safety guidelines,”says Jackie Mah, Purcell’s general manager.
“We’re getting a good amount of bookings from medical professionals — doctors and their families — who want a true escape to nature. Even if they’re not sure of their fitness levels, guests are pleasantly surprised when they see what they’re capable of on their hikes,” Mah says.
Purcell offers guided hiking tours with varying degrees of difficulty based on guest ability. The hikes wander through the alpine meadows and slate-covered mountain peaks on the edge of Glacier National Park. Offering all-inclusive gourmet meals and individual private rooms with mountain views, the lodge provides a welcome fresh air escape for city dwellers.
Before opening, Purcell staff made the necessary safety changes recommended by WorkSafeBC. This included using single-use pack lunch containers to limit cross-contamination, the installation of hand-sanitizing stations, staff use of masks and gloves, a switch to plated dinner service from buffet-style, spacing out guests for meal times, and requesting that guests bring their own sleeping bags.
The lodge can accommodate 14 guests in its main building and chalet. Purcell is spacing bookings so there are no back-to-back tours to allow for proper cleaning and sanitization. Guests can book and cancel with a full refund if necessary.
Nimmo Bay’s Ocean Splendour
Located in Mackenzie Sound, the splendidly isolated Nimmo Bay resort has been impacted by the absence of its a largely international and American clientele. Faced with the possibility of forgoing the 2020 season, owner/operators Becky and Fraser Murray decided to pivot and work to open safely to an exclusive Canadian clientele. That decision has been warmly embraced by BC residents and Canadians from outside the province.
“It has been so incredible to have the attention of the Canadian market and to have the opportunity to showcase our globally recognized brand of hospitality,” Becky Murray says. “We are learning how Canadians love to travel by slowing down and relaxing into the space. We truly believe that if someone comes to Nimmo Bay once, they will come again in years to come. We hope that we will be seeing our new Canadian clients for many years into the future.”
The resort’s staff has been thrilled to welcome many fellow Canadian guests to Nimmo who are taking this unprecedented opportunity to explore their own backyard and enjoy the remote serenity (and safety) of the property.
The all-inclusive and exclusive nature of Nimmo Bay allows guests to enjoy as much privacy as they wish. From one-on-one wilderness guides and wellness treatments, to private group activities like boat and helicopter excursions, yoga, and ethical bear viewing, the resort offers private connections to its impressive true wilderness.
Nimmo Bay has reopened carefully, with a lot of thought and preparation going into operations for the 2020 season. Staff created robust internal COVID-19 protocols for its teams, with safety precautions that include: staff masks, physical distancing, hand-sanitizer stations, housekeepers staying out of cabins (placing linens at cabin doorsteps), spacious dining options, and lots of privacy.
Adds Becky Murray, “The health and safety of our guests and team has always been a top priority. As we were preparing to open this 2020 season that became even more true. Developing protocols that follow the guidelines that have been laid out for all sectors that we represent while also feeling as though we can deliver on the sense of freedom and connection to nature that everyone is yearning for. With feedback from our first few groups of the season, I hope that we have been able to find that balance.”
Nimmo Bay offers three-, four, and seven-night inclusive stays, with endless options for customization. At this time, it is also offering the exclusive chance to book out the entire resort as a Paradisolation Retreat for private groups.