Tourism and hospitality businesses across Metro Vancouver are participating in the social media movement #WeAreTourism. We are supporting each other by sharing these stories of challenge and hope. 

This is one story.

This summer season was like no other.

Established in 1998, Vancouver Whale Watch was the first whale watching company in Metro Vancouver. Every year the company welcomes visitors locally and from around the world. The wildlife guides onboard are well educated on the marine mammals, the local flora and fauna, and waterways and islands, transforming the fleet of zodiac vessels into floating classrooms and educating the public about conservation of marine wildlife.

“We typically operate from April to October every year, going out everyday. From mid-June to mid-September we would even do two tours a day,” says Tammy Taylor, General Manager of Vancouver Whale Watch. “Our guests come here to have an experience of a lifetime, to see orca and humpback whales in the wild, in their natural habitat.”

A tour with Vancouver Whale Watch is an open air experience for the passengers so it has been a perfect getaway during this trying time. In addition to the typical open air zodiac boat, the company also owns two larger convertible zodiac-style boats, of which the roof of the front half could come off during the warm summer. Even getting into the cooler months, there’s still plenty of fresh air with access to big open windows, an open upper deck, and a semi-open back of the boat. 

According to Tammy, when Vancouver Whale Watch opened on July 1, it was “almost like it was our first day in business.” In fact, it was their first day of business this season. They never opened as planned in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They have been operating at reduced capacity, too. Passengers and staff are required to wear a mask in the office, on the boat, and in the shuttle. Temperature is also taken (on the wrist, an effective but less invasive way) before a passenger enters their Steveston office or gets on their shuttle bus from downtown Vancouver. Captain and the crew would ensure the boats, especially high-touch areas, are sanitized. Plexiglass partitions were installed throughout the office and markers were in place to direct physical distancing. The office only checks in two groups at a time, and there’s a team member outside the office to engage with other waiting passengers. Ongoing communication with the team, especially obtaining feedback from frontline staff during the first week of operation, had been vital in ensuring a smooth and safe operation.

“It’s important to the owner and me that our passengers feel comfortable, and they feel that the safety protocols are in place because we care about them and our staff,” adds Tammy. The company actually received compliments from the WorkSafeBC representative that their COVID safety plan was one of the best ones he’d seen.

Vancouver Whale Watch lost 3 valuable months this season. For the first two months, they operated one tour a day. In September, it was down to Friday to Sunday. For October, their last month of operation, it’s been reduced to Saturday and Sunday only. Compared to last year, Vancouver Whale Watch is projecting to wrap up their season at approximately 20% of their normal business level.

Locals can still support Vancouver Whale Watch through the winter by purchasing gift certificates or their merchandise for Christmas or any special occasions, or by following and engaging with them on social media. They have been sharing stories from their wildlife guides, fun facts about whales, behind-the-scenes information, and contests. 

“We’re normally not active on social media in winter time,” explains Tammy. “This year, we have made an effort to make this a priority and we’re going to be active through the winter into next April.”

“And our gift certificates don’t have an expiry, so you can join us anytime to explore our backyard together,” adds Tammy.

Year-round tourism businesses may be worrying about surviving the winter, but seasonal businesses such as Vancouver Whale Watch are looking ahead to plan for the 2021 season. “We have bookings already,” exclaims Tammy. “We have received direct bookings and reservations through tour operators for next April and into the summer. Soon, we will be thinking about 2022!”

2021 is looking promising.

ARTICLE BY: Joyce Lam, Kumquat Marketing
PHOTOS BY:  Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event PhotographySOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT BY: Kelly Liberatore, Creative Contessa Marketing