COVID Impacts

BC’s tourism industry was impacted worse than any other sector as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.  For almost two years travel was halted and non-essential services closed.

In compliance with Government mandated health and safety requirements, Tally-Ho temporarily discontinued operations effective March 19, 2020 (six days into the season).  The estimated financial shortfall was staggering, with over $20,000 per month needed to cover horse-care and other non-discretionary operational costs (leases, utilities, etc.).  Immediate action was taken to cut all non-essential costs, negotiate payment deferrals, lay off all staff and apply for every government grant available.  But these measures would fall far short of the necessary income.

Family, friends and supporters of the horses encouraged Donna to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help with horse care costs.  The campaign was launched on April 13, 2020, with a goal to raise $120,000 (one year of horse care costs).  Shortly thereafter Tally-Ho also launched a Horse Sponsorship program, allowing the public to choose their favorite horse and sponsor his or her care.  The public rose to the cry for help, and over 500 people would donate almost $85,000 over the next year.

Despite the successful fundraising efforts, money remained tight, and tourism outlooks were bleak with travel restrictions expected to remain in place for at least a year.  In May 2020 the difficult decision was made to re-home three horses that had not yet passed their training and had no foreseeable Tally-Ho work in their future.  Only six of the remaining horses were kept in shoes; and nine horses remained relatively idle on the farm.

With costs cut as deeply as possible, the next step in Tally-Ho’s action plan was to diversify its revenue source.  Traditionally, over 95% of revenues had come from tourism.  Now, with tourism effectively closed, there was an urgent need to create income from local sources.

  • On June 27, 2020, Tally-Ho was allowed to restart tours in Victoria, although demand was low and could only support limited hours for four days per week (operating at 3% of normal capacity). A limited number of staff were brought back, and wages were highly subsidized by government grants.
  • In July 2020, Tally-Ho created the Sea Cider Picnic Experience, in conjunction with three other businesses near the farm, in Saanichton. These tours were a huge success, with people being excited to have something to do that was fun and safe (a rarity during COVID!).  The tour became a permanent offering for Tally-Ho, and the District of Central Saanich installed three hitching rails outside Municipal Hall in a show of support for the new attraction.
  • Through July and August 2020, tourism remained shuttered and financial pressures continued. The total number of tours completed were less than 10% of a normal year.
  • The success of the tours in Saanichton paved the way to further explore that market. In December 2020, Tally-Ho created new horse-drawn caroling tours; and the following May the Friedlander family opened up Hidden Acres Farm for tours.  Both new tours were a hit and became permanent attractions in the community.

In early 2021 it was announced that the cruise ship season would be officially cancelled for the year and the Canada-US border would remain closed to non-essential travel.  Government assistance grants were starting to dwindle, and those that were available had less funding available.  The tourism industry realized it was facing another 12 months of financial strain.

Business closures were becoming common, and people were using life savings to help keep their business afloat, holding out hope that soon it would all be over.  Shopping local became a mantra and communities worked collaboratively to support each other.  Canadians travelled closer to home, if at all.  By the summer of 2021 Tally-Ho was still operating at less than half normal capacity.

Finally, on August 9, 2021, Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated US travelers, after 1.5 years of closure.  It was the start of restrictions being eased.  The tourism industry rallied to try to meet rising demand for services before the winter months set in.

In spring 2022, Victoria welcomed back the first cruise ship in three years.  Between April and October there were a total of 329 cruise ships (a record year), carrying 715,000 passengers.  Cruise was the lifeline that Victoria’s tourism industry needed.  By the end of the 2022 season, operators, including Tally-Ho, were starting to see some financial relief.