Wells Gray Tours shut operations in October 2020 because of the pandemic. Six months later, 20 B.C. residents from throughout the Interior, along with tour guide Roland Neave and driver Ken Clarke, set out for the first tour of the season in Wells Gray Park.
The group spent four days in the park, from June 23-26, exploring Clearwater Lake, hiking to the falls and taking in the sights.
“I think it is quite fitting that, after the long COVID shutdown of the travel industry, our first tour will be going back to our roots in the park where I first started running tours in 1972,” said Neave.
He added the tour group started out as a protest against BC Hydro building dams in the Clearwater River. They had proposed seven dams for the area, some as high as 175 metres (over 500 feet). Neave and the environmental group he was involved with decided to take people up into the park instead of laying in front of bulldozers, to show the beauty of the park and what it had to offer.
While he doesn’t believe they were the sole reason the dams didn’t go into the park, Neave likes to think they played a small part.
Now, 49 years later, Wells Gray Tours is the largest tour company in B.C. that is outbound, meaning they focus mainly on locals, as opposed to other companies that host tourists from other countries, and take them places all over the province, the country and the world.
While it’s their first departure in six months, Neave said he’s been able to keep all 27 employees working throughout the last 15 months, thanks to some government grants, as well as a rainy day fund, something he said every business should have.
“So many businesses go down when some disaster happens and you lose all your revenue,” he said. “Nothing has even been as bad as COVID in tourism or for us, but our rainy day fund has saved us.”
Normally, Wells Gray Tours would have about 15 tours booked over June, but considering the slow opening of the economy and easing of travel restrictions, they have a handful in June and July, getting busier in August. By September, said Neave, they should be back to normal.