Tour boat operators call on Ontario to increase passenger limits during COVID-19 pandemic
KINGSTON — Tour ship companies are calling on the Ontario government to increase passenger limits, following a rough summer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the province says a tour boat cannot exceed 50 people if they will be inside on the boat, or 100 people outside.
That means boats like the Island Queen in Kingston, Ont., can only carry a passenger load of 50 because much of its space is indoors.
The Kingston Destination Group owns the vessel. General manager Hugh Mackenzie says the capacity limit of 50 people is far below the actual capacity of 300 people.
For Mackenzie, this number has hit his business hard.
“We have made layoffs, we have eliminated some positions,” Mackenzie tells CTV News Ottawa. “Companies been operating since 1976. This was my 30th season, and my worst.”
Mackenzie says to survive his 31st season; the province needs to make a change to a percentage-based system for passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the amount of space on their boats, they want to have similar regulations as restaurants.
“You can see that we have two interior decks, (the) windows open, so there’s lots of air flow,” he explains. “The separated tables, the plexiglass is in between the tables like you’d find at a restaurant.”
Passenger and Commercial Vessel Association president Kurt Huck says many operators across the province have already put up for sale signs, while even more are on the brink.
“The stress financially, the stress of the unknown. A lot of feeling of abandonment by the government,” Huck says. “It doesn’t seem like they understand or are listening to our industry.”
Mackenzie says tour operators are a pillar of Kingston’s tourism business, and if they fail, other areas suffer.
“Fills up the hotels the restaurants, the retail, the downtown,” he says. “Gives the city the spirit, the spunk, that Kingston is so famous for in the summer time.”
In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said, “Our number one priority remains the health and well-being of the people of Ontario – including our economic health. We acknowledge the immediate impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on Ontario’s tourism sector and on the long-term sustainable operations of organizations in the sector. “
The ministry adds, “The Chief Medical Officer of Health and other public health experts continue to closely monitor the evolving situation across the province to advise if and when public health measures or restrictions should be adjusted or tightened.”