“Obviously COVID’s affected every business, but in the case of our vessels it hasn’t made a huge difference in that we’d just be getting in the water around mid-June anyway, so we’re only late by a few weeks,” says Terri McCulloch, Communications Manager for Ambassatours, which runs the popular tours.
Typically, the amphibious vehicle fits about 48 people at once. Although there are no official restrictions on capacity, social distancing rules will apply this summer, so McCulloch says about 36 people will be permitted on each tour.
“The details of our operation with regard to physical distancing, they deferred that over for us to operate as the province requires,” she says. For the upcoming season, those details will include Plexiglas barriers between each row of seats, and guests only sitting with the people they came with.
If there’s increased demand, the company can also bring on extra vehicles: “A lot of folks don’t realize, but we actually own six Harbour Hoppers. We always say the Harbour Hopper, they’re all pretty much identical,” McCulloch tells The Coast.
Tours will also be spaced further apart to allow for increased cleaning in between. The Harbour Hopper will run from 10 am to 6 pm, seven days a week until Labour Day weekend. “We’ve adjusted the Harbour Hopper tour schedule to enable our cleaning staff to go aboard to sanitize all seats and touch surfaces between tours, and the vessels undergo a professional cleaning at our maintenance facility each overnight,” adds McCulloch.
Other ships owned by Ambassatours include the Tall Ship Silva, which will be running at about 30 percent capacity this summer. The open-air deck will be sectioned off to keep groups separate. “The zones will be physically distanced from the adjacent zone by six feet, keeping folks apart, but the deck nice and open,” says McCulloch.
Ambassatours’ sternwheeler steamboat, the Harbour Queen, won’t host its weekend party boat events in 2020, but their Wines on the Water and Craft Beer Sailings on the Tall Ship Silva will run once a week in July and August, at a reduced capacity.
“With the zones set up that we have, we’ve got really good physical distancing for folks, and some one-way markings, and I think people will be comfortable on board. We’ve taken the time to create an experience where people can really get on and relax and not worry about someone coming in their space,” says McCulloch.
But without cruise ships docking in Halifax, Ambassatours’ biggest setback has been through the loss of partnerships with cruise lines: Tourists won’t dine at it's restaurant, Murphy’s, or take Ambassatours bus trips to Peggy’s Cove. The company is also standing down the 20-year-old Theodore Tugboat, who hasn’t offered tours for the past few years anyway due to decreasing popularity.
“Obviously we’d love to have everything in the water, but we tried to focus on what we know people like the most,” McCulloch says.
To keep business up, the Harbour Hopper is offering a 15 percent discount to locals this summer—and to all Atlantic Canadians “in anticipation of the Atlantic-wide bubble.”
“For a lot of folks seeing the Harbour Hopper going around town is kind of the first sign of summer, so they’ll be pretty happy to have the vehicle back out around town,” says McCulloch.
The Harbour Hopper operator is hoping Haligonians get out and experience the 45-minute tour for themselves this summer, even if they don’t have any out-of-town guests to show around.
“We’d rather send a few out and operate it as best we can with people feeling comfortable and give folks something to do. We’re not looking to make big dollars this year, it isn’t about that for us,” says McCulloch. “It’s just about being able to participate and keep some vitality along the waterfront with these activities.”