A Hamilton company that specializes in local waterfalls and brewery tours is navigating the tricky world of COVID-19 and trying to bring their services to people safely and respectfully.
Redback Travel, a Waterdown-based tour group that typically provides public tours of Hamilton’s historic sites, waterfalls and burgeoning craft brewery scene, is back on the road but at much scaled-back capacity.
“Our phone stopped ringing for a long time,” said Angela Ferris, owner of Redback Travel and operator of Original Hamilton Beer Tours. “As soon as phase 2 was announced, we started getting some calls.”
When the provincial state of emergency was declared back in March, Redback parked their buses to wait out COVID-19 in isolation, like the rest of us.
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Ferris says they spent much of the time issuing refunds to customers and then they spent weeks uncertain as to how to come out of the closure with a plan and resources to move forward.
“There isn’t much of a pivot for a business that drives big groups of people to places where there are more people,” Ferris told InTheHammer. “We’re just trying to hold on.”
To that end, they are currently only using their biggest bus, which accommodates up to 22 people comfortably, but will only be used to charter private groups of up to ten and they’re screening individuals and asking those who are sick to stay home.
They’ve installed touchless hand sanitizer dispensers in the bus and they’re undertaking rigorous sanitization of the vehicle between tours and encouraging guests to bring a mask and use it throughout the tour.
“The tours won’t be going inside [the breweries]. Everything is outside,” Ferris explained, as per provincial protocols.
“We’re doing our part to mitigate risk and keep everyone safe,” she said. “The venues are doing that as well.”
A lot of venues still won’t take tour groups, even if they are a group of 10 or less.
“They’re not in that space yet,” Ferris said. “We’re going at [the venues’] pace, really; following their lead.”
So for the time being, Original Hamilton Beer Tours is only visiting a handful of local and near-local breweries.
This is likely to increase to more venues as the province moves into Phase 3 of reopening, which, for most of the province will happen this Friday (July 17).
Hamilton, however, is among the municipalities that will not be entering Phase 3 just yet.
“I feel that the precautions we’re taking and the breweries are on par with being safe and responsible,” Ferris said.
“The people calling us are ready to get back out there and they’re understanding that things aren’t the same and they understand we all need to be patient and respectful.”
Just this past weekend, Original Hamilton Beer Tours hosted their first post-quarantine tour and despite the soggy weather, and the cancellation of one stop on the tour due to rain, it was a success.
“The group was very happy with the afternoon,” Ferris said. “The feedback from breweries was great and they were happy with how well everything worked.”
For those interested in booking a tour, Ferris says that there will be a lot of information provided to potential guests before a booking can actually take place.
Ferris says they also ask that groups be made up of people within your social bubble, and groups will be asked to sign waivers and everyone will have to provide information to help with COVID-19 tracing, should the need arise.
“We all need to do our due diligence,” Ferris said. “It’s so important to get back out there and enjoy things but we need to understand that it’s very different.”
For waterfall enthusiasts, private waterfall tours may soon also become available as Hamilton’s waterfalls start reopening this week.
“We’re still going to deliver a great tour,” Ferris said. “They’re just different from before.”
Photo courtesy Original Hamilton Beer Tours Facebook page