As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps shooting holes in hunting outfitters’ budgets, the provincial government is trying to help them reload for 2021.
On Thursday it announced it’s expanding a cash-help program for the tourism sector, adding outfitters and privately-owned RV parks and campgrounds as eligible applicants.
The help is needed for Saskatchewan’s outfitters industry, which as of May had already lost $88 million due to the U.S.-Canada border closure forced by the global pandemic.
Roy Anderson, chief executive of the Saskatchewan Commission of Professional Outfitters, said his group expects data from a survey to be conducted next week will show an updated revenue loss of $250 million.
He got right to the point in describing the pandemic's financial hit: “We’re comfortable saying (to our members) ‘the (hunting) season is lost; there won’t be any Americans coming up here in 2020.’”
The majority of outfitters rely on spending by Americans traveling north of the border to take in the province’s game-bird- or big game-hunting or angling options, he said.
The border remains closed to non-essential travel.
The provincial money is available under the Tourism Sector Support Program, initially announced in early August. Applicants can choose one of two streams: Accommodations and Major Event Facilities Funding, or Event, Attractions or Tour Sector Business Funding.
The accommodation stream will see a business get at least $10,000 in help, up to a maximum of $50,000. The amount is calculated based on 30 per cent of an operators’ average monthly revenue for each full month in operation either in 2018 or 2019, whichever allows for a higher disbursement amount.
The event and attractions stream allows for one of three payment amounts to a business: $7,500, $10,000 or $15,000, depending on either number of employees or number of patrons typically attracted (in event-type scenarios).
Anderson said his group’s 173 members have options to apply to either stream, based on hunting's seasonal nature.
To qualify as an outfitter, whether registered with the commission or not, a business has to provide two of three things to hunters: guidance, accommodation, equipment.
Anderson said the outfitters commission is glad the government was “very receptive” to its requests, despite its anticipated $250-million loss in outfitters' revenue.
“It’s not a bailout and we understand that,” he said.
The commission surveyed its members in May about their expected financial impact from the pandemic.
Of 135 respondents, 17 said there’s a “very high” risk they’ll have to close down permanently; 12 respondents said they face a “high” risk of permanent closure.
In a news release announcing the expanded support program, the government said as of Thursday, 426 businesses have applied to it, receiving more than $10 million in help.
Applications for the program will be accepted until Oct. 1.
To qualify, a business has to show a 30 per cent decline in revenue for June 2020, when compared with overall revenue either from 2018 or 2019.
Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post