NORTH BAY -- Even with less travel to the city this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, area businesses say local support and travellers from southern Ontario helped make this summer a good one.

Darla Esch, owner of The Green Store, was able to reopen her business in May since it had a street entrance. Esch said ever since she reopened, it has been a pretty regular summer.

"It took a little while for the local people to realize that we were open, but once we were open I'll tell you, the support from the community was unbelievable," she said. "They were here to support us and shop locally … As far as sales, our sales were actually quite good from June, July and August, and I think it's from the local support we got and also from the people from southern Ontario who came through."

Steve Dreany, executive director of Tourism North Bay, said as a whole, the city wasn't hit as hard as some of the bigger centres.

Less dependent on leisure travel

"Tourism in North Bay isn't as dependent on the leisure travel as many other centres are," Dreany said. "We're 75 per cent business-to-business travel, 25 per cent really is only our leisure travel. So because we don't have the great big huge attractions like Canada's Wonderland or large convention centres or those types of things, we weren't as heavily impacted in terms of the big numbers."

Although he said the city faired OK, it didn't come without its struggles.

"It's been really difficult. There hasn't been as many people travelling so there hasn't been as many people travelling into the community," he said. "So obviously hotels were significantly hit. Museums and attractions, to the degree that they could be open, had fewer people travelling to them, so they were hit. Restaurants were especially hit because they were hit both in terms of limited capacity and fewer people travelling to the community."

Bryce Gartner, owner of Shockwaves Paddle and First Aid, lost three months of his season, only being able to reopen in August.

"May, June and July, I had big plans, but obviously I just shut pretty much right down for the first three months," Gartner said. "Then when Ontario when to phase 3, there was some allowance for tourism, so I did start getting calls, more so this summer from families."

More local clients

He said this summer has seen a lot of local clients, as opposed to tourists, but business is almost back to where he hoped.

"Because I am part time, I really only count on a trip or two a week and I was counting on zero at the start of the season. So in August I did do one or two trips a week, so I'm doing all right now."

Last year, Tourism North Bay had a very strong season, Dreany said.

"We did have significant growth in tourism. We had growth in numbers across every sector of the tourism industry so that was a very good year. We did end up coming out of the year with a little bit of extra money in the bank, which is very good because this year all of those numbers are down."

"We won't come out of this year with a surplus like we did last year," he added, "but we are still projecting a balanced budget or close to a balanced budget."

Moving into the fall, Dreany said inter-regional travel is expected to be on the rise, something that will definitely benefit the city.

"We hope that people will recognize that the money they spend within the community helps to support the community. And if we keep a lot of that support within the region, it is a tremendous opportunity for us within this difficult time to be able to help our neighbours and friends."