Cape Breton tour operators see spike in demand above pre-pandemic levels

·2 min read
Simon MacKay is a Sydney-area taxi driver who takes tourist on trips around Cape Breton, N.S.  (Submitted by Simon MacKay - image credit)
Simon MacKay is a Sydney-area taxi driver who takes tourist on trips around Cape Breton, N.S. (Submitted by Simon MacKay - image credit)

Simon MacKay is among a collective of Sydney-area taxi drivers who are seeing a 30 per cent increase in demand for private tours around  Cape Breton compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The group offers full-day tours along Nova Scotia's world-famous Cabot Trail or scenic coastal drives to places like Baddeck.

"People want to go off exploring," MacKay said. "And they want to go out, and they don't care what it costs them, but they want to do it independently."

MacKay has heard a variety of reasons why tourists choose a private car.

He's been told some are wary of being in large groups and running the risk of catching COVID-19, while others want to customize their vacations with stops that speak to their interests.

For one or two people, a day trip by taxi around the Cabot Trail will cost $400, while a round-trip from Sydney to Baddeck will cost roughly $250.

MacKay said this year there are 23 taxi drivers operating private tours, up from just six last year.

"I think the concept of independent travel is only going to go [up]," he said. "There's a big difference in the age of people coming off the cruise ships. People are a lot younger ... [they] want to do their own thing and want to see their own thing."

Misty MacDonald runs Cabot Discovery Tours Inc. in Baddeck which offers trips around the island in a passenger van.

She is surprised by the number of people looking to book tours this summer.

"The demand is really off the charts. So far this year we've probably exceeded in sales more than anything that we've done in previous years up to this point. And certainly more than what we did in 2021."

Destination Cape Breton
Destination Cape Breton

MacDonald said private operators are busy due to a variety of reasons, including the lack of rental cars in the area.

There are also a few fewer tour operators and more passengers arriving on cruise ships than expected.

"We weren't very prepared," said MacDonald. "As I said, we were a little bit cautious going into it. So really unsure. We were kind of left scrambling, trying to make sure that we have enough vehicles and enough guides to handle the demand."

MacDonald said that so far she's nearly booked for the summer season, and has a waiting list for customers wanting a scenic drive across the island this fall to view brilliant autumn foliage.

As for MacKay, he said several of their taxi tours are also booking up weeks in advance.

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