Quebec tourist destination, faced with a COVID-19 summer, searches for new business model

Quebec's tourist destinations are scrambling to find ways to survive a summer shaping up to be unlike any other that's come before.

The Reford Gardens of Metis Sur Mer are nestled on the banks of the St. Lawrence River near Rimouski. In a typical year, the gardens welcome 60 to 100,000 visitors but the summer of 2020 is a big question mark.

“We're anxious to get the green light from the government so we can plan our actual opening to the public,” said owner Alexander Reford.

The gardens are known for their landscape design and a collection of over 3,500 types of plants. But a slow season means pivoting the business – the gardens are selling garden supplies online and chefs from their restaurant have taken to making meals for the local food bank.

“It's really just to help and keep people fed and keep our staff busy,” said chef Frederick Boucher.

The kitchen is also offering takeout orders while the gardens is trying new physical distancing rules, limiting the number of visitors.

“We may have fewer cars in the parking lots and fewer people on the site but what won't change is the plants are going to be there,” said Reford. “They're going to be in bloom whether it's me seeing them or 100 people seeing them.”

While the number of Montrealers diagnosed with COVID-19 number over 20,000, there have been only 43 confirmed cases in the Bas-St-Laurent region of Quebec so far. A recent Leger poll showed 80 per cent of Quebecers outside Montreal want the city to remain locked down, to prevent the virus from spreading from the epicentre as city dwellers head out to the regions for vacations.

“Obviously everyone is scared because if they start opening the frontiers and all, it's like a double-edged knife,” said Boucher. “We want them to come but we don't want them to come.”

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