Despite shortened operation times, outdoor businesses saw record-breaking business this past summer.
The summer of 2020 was one like no other in recent history. Restrictions caused by COVID-19 led to the cancellation of concerts, weddings, large gatherings and vacations across the country.
When Ohio’s recreational facilities and parks reopened at the end of May, many individuals flocked outdoors.
Seeking new places and activities, many resorted to outdoor, socially
With many retailers running low on bikes, canoes and kayaks due to high demand, people took to local rental liveries. Outdoor business owners, like Bernie Roell, took notice.
Roell, owner of Murray’s Landing, says that despite business starting later than usual, his business saw great success over the summer.
“Normally we start in April, but this year it wasn’t until June,” Roell says. “Once things were lifted, then I think people were anxious to get out and do something. Since a lot of restaurants, movie theaters and other activities were still closed, outdoor activities went through the roof.”
Located just outside of Hocking Hills, Murray’s Landing opened in 2017 and offers three different trips via canoe, kayak or tube. The canoe and kayak livery includes a campground overlooking the Hocking River where patrons can fish and use fire rings and picnic tables.
Another location will open soon in Nelsonville. Adventure Pro Outdoors will combine cabin rentals, canoeing and kayaking and add an ATV experience, Roell says.
With people more willing to get out and explore, and outdoor establishments busier than ever, hiking trails, rivers, and campgrounds have expectedly become more crowded. Bookings for RV rentals and campgrounds doubled week by week from late April to early June in the U.S. as people eagerly looked to escape their homes in search of a quick getaway.
But with more patrons lies greater responsibility for businesses. Cleaning guidelines must be followed strictly, especially in public areas such as bathrooms, showers and drinking fountains.
“We take good care of our place and do a good job of cleaning,” Roell says. “The nice part is that with the campground a lot of things were already social distanced, so the changes there really weren’t all that drastic.”
Roell says that many people he has talked to who own outdoor businesses are enjoying record-setting summers despite a shorter window of operation time.
Weddings and party hall gatherings have changed drastically over the last six months.
Despite Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement on May 21 that wedding capacities could increase to 300 people, no dancing and table capacity rules have been strictly enforced. Wedding ceremonies were exempt from the stay-at-home order, but receptions were not.
Adjusting to changes was not easy for Southern Ohio Hunting Preserve.
“We were closed down for about three months, but things have picked back up recently,” Owner Butch Alexander says.
Southern Ohio Hunting Preserve offers lodging, weddings and a wide variety of different animals to hunt on their 600-acre preserve. According to their website, the preserve offers three home-cooked meals, a living and dining area, bedding and air conditioning for $50 a day.
Alexander said that all patrons receive masks and cleaning supplies upon arrival. The site also stated that hunters only pay for what they harvest, with pricing varying by animal.
Another facet that outdoor businesses altered was bus transportation. Given that some trails and rivers are miles away from check-in and registration desks, participants often use bus transportation provided by the business to reach their destination.
Hocking Hills and Adventures limits its seating on buses to every other seat as a safety measure, along with all employees always wearing masks. Assistant to the President of Operations Marty Smith says that despite a few instances, customers have been understanding and cooperative.
“Bus transportation has cost us the most in business since we have to separate each party to every other seat,” Smith says. “Getting people to wear masks on the transportation has been difficult at times as well, but we just want to ensure that we are keeping people as safe as possible.”
Even with limitations, outdoor business owners and employees like Smith are amazed at how business spiked over the summer.
Founded in 1976, Hocking Hills and Adventures features penthouse suite rustic cabins built by Amish craftsmen. Complete with televisions, air condition and heating, private rooms and all within a 10-mile radius of all Hocking Hills state parks, the state-of-the-art cabins have been in high demand all summer.
“The cabins have been consistently booked since we opened,” Smith says. “We have to allow a day between stays for cleaning. There’s a little bit of breathing space between stays for employees to clean, and we’ve had no issues with the cabins this year.”
Success is not new for Hocking Hills and Adventures. The business was originally just a canoe livery and was the first tourism attraction in the area when Lewis Barbini founded it. Given the vast scenery in the region, the potential was enormous.
Barbini and his family still own the company and has since expanded the once canoe livery to a campground and fun center complete with a splash pad, mini-golf, gift shop, game room and go-carts.