INNISFAIL – With provincial COVID restrictions lifted as of July 1, times are changing again at Discovery Wildlife Park.
Innisfail’s 90-acre zoo will not have to rely on innovative measures, like the drive-thru strategy put in place last year, to keep the crowds coming. Folks can come without the inconvenience of the province’s strict gathering measures.
However, co-owner Doug Bos is moving ahead with an ambitious plan outside of COVID. He's expanding his already successful cabin rental initiative to the public at the park’s campground, which has 60 powered sites around a stocked rainbow trout pond.
On June 28, town council unanimously approved a development permit for the zoo to build 10 additional 12-feet-tall cabins with 200 square feet of floor space at the campground, which is now in its fifth season of operation.
Bos noted the campground started with two cabins. He said those went over so well a third was added. The bookings kept increasing and a fourth was added last year. Bos said the demand increased even more and another two were built, which gave the campground six to start this season. With the 10 added for the 2022 season, the new investment of $200,000 will bring his total number of cabins to 16; each one serviced with power.
“It is a market we have been growing over the last four years. I saw a need for that after our first year of opening the campground,” said Bos. “When tenters would come out and stay and the weather would get really, really bad, blow their tents up against the fence and they would have to leave early and I said I was going to try and build a couple of cabins to accommodate people who want to come out camping but they really don’t like tenting because the weather turns bad.”
While this is good news for Discovery Wildlife Park and the community as it will attract increased visitors and financial stimulus to the zoo and the town, Bos is taking a different view about the lifting of COVID restrictions than those advanced by many other businesses that it will bring immediate and increased financial benefits.
He said the pandemic did not “devastate” his zoo, but the sudden lifting of restrictions could hurt, as ironic as that might sound.
“We had no competition out there. We did OK through COVID. It didn’t devastate us like it did to a lot of other businesses,” said Bos. “I am scared that our attendance could potentially drop because there are so many things now that everybody else could go do. Before their options for doing things were very limited. Now all their options will be open, like fairs and parades and concerts, whatever.
“I don’t know how many of those things will get any traction but depending how those get going then people can go and do those different things than rather come here.”
Bos said he’s also worried about the delivery of supplies for the zoo, noting many suppliers have not had the time to “gear up” for the July 1 reopening.
“All these restaurants and bars are going to be putting food orders in to get supplies, and the wholesalers are not going to have the inventory for everybody,” said Bos. “So, I don’t know how much of a food shortage we are going to end up with. I am anticipating problems there as well."
Bos added he’s also having problems maintaining staff levels. “We are short of staff,” said Bos, noting his park had about 25 employees a few weeks ago but dropped a few since. “We’ve struggled hiring staff this year, really bad. Worse than ever.”
But Bos continues to persevere and is confident his expanded cabin initiative with his growing camping clientele will be strong mitigating measures against any concerns for the near future.
“There was a whole demographic out there who don’t have tents but they want to get out camping but can’t afford RVs,” added Bos. “This is really attracting new Canadians. They are a big part of our traffic for the cabin rentals.”