Canadian outfitter leader concerned about fall seasons, financial impacts
Jeana Schuurman is the managing director of the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society. This group has taken a leading role in rallying outfitter and guide associations to focus on national, state and provincial legislatures, and regulatory agencies to get assistance for members. Most of Schuurman’s hunting and fishing outfitter members depend on clients from the Lower 48. Opening the border has been the Number 1 focus of Schuurman and her group to date. We interviewed Schuurman in April 2020.
—John Geiger, The Guidefitter Journal editor.
GUIDEFITTER JOURNAL: What is the foremost concern of your members right now?
JS: The majority of our clientele are American, so the fact that the US-Canada border is closed is our biggest concern.
GFJ: What can an association do that individuals cannot during a time like this pandemic?
JS: During times like these, an association can be a collective voice. In Canada, a number of programs have been introduced to help support small businesses, but not all of them make sense for our industry, as small rural businesses that operate seasonally. Working provincially and also with our national organization, the Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations, I think we have done a good job of articulating the scope of the impacts and advocating for programming that meets the unique needs of our sector.
The other benefit I think we have served is the timely distribution of information. We know what pieces of the news are relevant for our members, and we try to get them out as quickly as possible so that our members do not have to search for information. Also, if I hear a question from one member, I like to give the answer to everyone in a member email because there is a good chance that others are wondering the same thing.
GFJ: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
JS: The news has been changing so fast over the last month, and I suppose there is the possibility that it could do so again in the opposite direction. At this point, it seems like we will not be able to do our non-resident alien spring black bear/snow goose seasons. Even if the border was to open in a few weeks, I suspect there will be industry impacts into the fall with hunters more wary about travel or facing unexpected financial constraints.
GFJ: We’ve noticed more people enjoying the outdoors, and more people fishing and spring turkey hunting where we live (while distancing). Will we see a renewed interest in the outdoors when this is all over?
JS: For me personally, I can say that the time spent physical distancing has, in some ways, refocussed my attention on what is essential. Quality time spent with loved ones has risen to the very top of that list. So, yes, when this is all over, I hope to see a renewed interest in hunting as an activity that helps build and maintain meaningful relationships with those we love. I think we will all be eager to go back to doing the things we love, and for many of us, that is enjoying the outdoors. The current barrage of news can be overwhelming, and I expect many will look forward to “unplugging” and getting outside for a digital detox when this is over.
GFJ: Are your members finding success applying for federal and provincial assistance loans and grants? Which programs are most effective for your members?
JS: We have heard that outfitters (or in some cases, their staff) have successfully applied for several federal programs: the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides $2,000 per month, similar to what would be available to those who qualify for employment insurance; business loans through the Canada Emergency Response Account (CERA); and the 75% wage subsidy the Government of Canada has provided.
We believe more help will come federally for tourism operators specifically, and APOS continues to work at the provincial level for other industry supports. Current provincial supports that may be helpful to some members are the deferrals that exist for Workers Compensation Board (WCB) payments and residential/commercial utilities.
GFJ: Any thoughts about other long-term effects of this pandemic on the outdoor world in general or outfitters in particular?
JS: With each major world event — such as 9/11 or other economic recessions, for example — life as we know it was changed. It is likely that it will be the same with COVID-19. Life will be different when this is over. However, outfitters and hunters are resilient: we have adjusted many times in the past, and we will adjust again. I believe there will continue to be a strong interest in outdoor pursuits and recreation. There could even be a resurgence of interest in hunting as people look for ways to connect more closely with family, escape a hyper-connected digital society and secure their own food.
The world may be different in the future, but I think that traveling hunters will continue to do what they love to do. I do not imagine that golfers will stop golfing nor skiers stop skiing. Hunters will continue to explore new places and check adventures off their bucket lists.
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