Pandemic as Opportunity: The Lakehouse Invests Long-term to Improve Guest Services and Support Its Community

In June, as part of the Canadian Business Resilience Network campaign, we, with the generosity of Salesforce (NYSE:CRM), gave 62 small Canadian businesses from coast to coast to coast $10,000 Small Business Relief Fund grants to help recovery efforts during unprecedented times. Lakehouse, a small boutique hotel property in Wasigaming, in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, was the recipient of one of the grants.

The names of Banff and Algonquin Parks may be more familiar with most Canadians than that of Riding Mountain but the park has a long history being designated in 1933. An early claim to park for the park was that it was home for a short while to controversial conservationist Archie Belaney, AKA Grey Owl, and his cabin has been restored for public viewing.

COVID-19 resulted in the closure of all national parks from March 17 to June 1. The closure of all visitor services and vehicle traffic to Riding Mountain National Park quickly resulted in 0% hotel occupancy at Lakehouse and the cancellation of many bookings and events throughout the normally busy summer season. 

Cancellations and refunds during the early phase of the pandemic meant a zero revenue situation for the hotel. Since reopening, revenues have begun to return but are nowhere near the pre-pandemic levels.

We recently checked-in with Lakehouse Properties owner, Karly McRae, to get an update on what’s been happening.

During the closure, the Lakehouse team hunkered down to determine new ways of working once the restrictions began to lift. To that end, the grant money from the Small Business Relief Fund helped investment in new technology. New cellular iPads were ordered so that customer service onsite could be contactless. Hotel guests can now text their needs to hotel staff; this has upped the service level for clientele. These changes will last beyond the pandemic.

In anticipation of the park’s reopening, the hotel built an online ordering system for its restaurant, expanded its takeout menu and began delivering grocery packages and take home meals to customers, guests and the surrounding community. The hotel has also expanded its online retail offer to help diversify revenue streams and has built a contactless check-in system for hotel guests. 

Open year-round, Lakehouse is not just a hotel but also a driver for local economic development. The hotel took a previously neglected historic property, restored it and rebranded it to become the centrepiece of Wasagaming. Lakehouse, a member of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, has also been a recipient of Manitoba Tourism awards for marketing excellence and for outstanding achievement as ambassadors for tourism in the community and province. 

As a woman entrepreneur, Karly is also respectful of other diversity groups, such as Indigenous peoples, people of colour and LGBTQ+. The park is located within Treaty 2 Territory and works to employ and engage with the Indigenous peoples in the area and, more broadly, works to be a diverse and inclusive employer.

As a responsible business owner, Karly walks the talk and believes that it is the responsibility of business leaders to adapt, to adjust and to pivot not just in hard times but during the good times as well. As such, the changes she has made are for the good of the business and the community. She has bills to pay but so, too, do the employees of the hotel.

Going forward, Karly is hopeful the federal government will recognize that any assistance that will be forthcoming will respect the nature of the sectors within Canada. The Canadian tourism sector has taken a huge hit. It will be a couple of cycles before tourism hits its stride again as an economic powerhouse, but, like Karly McRae and the team at Lakehouse, Canadians should look at the opportunities presented and carve out new pathways – you never know what awaits!