Businesses to face another May without customers flocking to Festival of Birds

·2 min read
Point Pelee National Park's Festival of Birds is cancelled for the second year in a row. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC - image credit)
Point Pelee National Park's Festival of Birds is cancelled for the second year in a row. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC - image credit)

The Festival of Birds happens during the spring migration in May, attracting thousands of birders from all over the world and bringing in millions of dollars for the local hospitality industry.

But for the second year in a row, Point Pelee National Park has cancelled the event because of the pandemic, and local businesses say they're going to feel the loss.

For Freddy's Restaurant on Point Pelee Drive, it accounts for 25 per cent of their annual income.

Mike Makhlouf, one of the owners of Freddy's Restaurant, said the restaurant will miss out on revenues related to the festival for a second year in a row.
Mike Makhlouf, one of the owners of Freddy's Restaurant, said the restaurant will miss out on revenues related to the festival for a second year in a row.(Dale Molnar/CBC)

'Well, it's devastating obviously. This is really where our season begins. May is big for us," said Mike Makhlouf, one of the owners.

Down the road, at the Pelee Wings Nature Store, a big part of their business is selling binoculars and other equipment to birders, so they've made a lot of adjustments to offset the loss in business.

They would normally hold a trade show and sale during the festival, but this year they've worked out deals with the companies.

"A lot of our suppliers have passed down further discounts, either through lower pricing or extra giveaways," said Eric Briggs, optics manager at Pelee Wings.

In addition to selling a lot of kayaks, they are also offering kayak rentals. They've opened an area to serve food outside and they also sell a lot of merchandise on their website.

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald feels for the businesses, but she agrees the festival can't go on as usual.

"What can we do. What can we do. We work so closely with Point Pelee. We all want to get back to normal but we need to keep people safe," she said.

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald says she understands why the festival is being cancelled again due to COVID-19.
Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald says she understands why the festival is being cancelled again due to COVID-19.(Dale Molnar/CBC)

Officials at Point Pelee are currently working on putting together some virtual events for the month of May. Many local birders are likely to still going to show up because the park will be open on a limited basis.

Birder Paul Pratt will be there.

"Last year, we couldn't get into the park at all. It was closed all through the migration season, so we're looking forward to being able to enjoy the park even on a limited basis this year," he said.

The park is encouraging birders to also bird-watch in their backyards. The park is still has to decide at what capacity it will be open next month.