It seems like only last week that all we could talk about was the impact of a struggling economy that came on the heels of 9-11, SARS, weird weather, a high Canadian dollar and skyrocketing gas prices to name just a few of the treats faced by the Canadian golf industry and other businesses the past few years.
It would be nice, we thought, to have a diversion from having to deal with a recession and we got it in the form of swine flu that has gone beyond Mexico and is now popping up in places such as the United Kingdom, United States and right here in Canada.
The possibility of a swine flu pandemic did indeed push the economy aside as the main topic of conversation at golf courses around the country yesterday.
“Our discussion this morning in our operations meeting was `Alright, here we go. Another bit of adversity to come our way,’” said Alan Carter, director of golf for the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, Alta., a facility that was expecting its first tour group of the season yesterday.
“It’s just another nail, something coming our way that we just don’t need,” added Ted Stonehouse of Bell Bay Golf Club in Baddeck, N.S.
Kevin Thistle of Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont., was also discussing the swine flu in meetings yesterday and agrees with both Carter and Stonehouse that the Canadian golf industry and, all businesses for that matter, should be approaching the situation in a constructive way.
“I think we’ve got to just be proactive, keep your eye on it,” said Thistle.
“We’ve got to be on high alert,” said Carter. “We’ve got to caution ourselves right away not to jump to the next conclusion. We should be hoping that all the appropriate authorities are taking all the preventative steps they need to. Unfortunately, (swine flu) needs some time to filter away.”
If anything constructive came out of the SARS crisis that hit Toronto in 2003 and is believe to have killed 43 people, it’s that it better prepared health care workers to deal with such problems in terms of speed, possible vaccination and isolation of patients, so panic isn’t called for at this point.
However, the current situation took on a SARS-like quality when some countries issued alerts about traveling to Canada after cases of swine flu were discovered in Nova Scotia and British Columbia. Thistle remembers only too well the effects of similar travel advisories during the SARS crisis.
“The golf business was hit pretty hard from out of town,” he recalled. “We used to have a lot more people coming in from Chicago or Rochester, New York. That summer of SARS, we saw our visitors go down. We don’t need that kind of disaster again.”
Both Stonehouse and Carter depend on tourism at their facilities, but both say business from within their respective regions become their focus in such situations.
“We still see a lot of interest to travel around the region as opposed to traveling too far abroad,” said Stonehouse. “We know that May-June for Nova Scotia, it’s a huge percentage – and I’m talking about 95 to 98 per cent of our guests – are coming from the Maritimes.
“We don’t see a lot of travelers (from farther away) until July and, hopefully by then, things will settle down,” he said.
Carter agrees, adding that tour business has been down considerably over the past few years, so the challenge is then to look in your own neighbourhood. “It’s up to us to replace them with Canadians and more regional people,” he said.
Working within a hotel/resort company such as Fairmont, Carter says his facility has the benefit of dealing with viruses and procedures that come from situations that took place in the past. With those procedures already in place, he says it’s important to stress that they be followed.
“Whether it’s swine flu or anything else, we’re going into a season of needing to be ready for these people traveling from place to place to place to place on buses where they have a tendency to see some of this stuff go around,” he said.
“All we can do is to get all of our colleagues and to take everyone around this place and go through all the steps that we’ve got in place,” said Carter, adding that logical places that need constant attention are golf carts, washrooms and doorknobs, or any place that people put their hands.
“Let’s just think about it from looking after our clubhouse and our locker rooms. What little things should we be making sure we get done that, if something happened to come our way, that it’s not going any farther than one individual?” he suggested.
Stonehouse agrees that stressing procedures and common sense go a long way in the situation we now face.
“The practices are in place operationally,” he said. “It’s just making sure that the practices are in practice from a sanitary perspective.
“You can’t really tell if the person next to you has been in contact (with the virus) or whether they’re looking after themselves.
“It’s a bit of a frustrating thing. We can only control our own environment.”