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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Tourists flock to NOTL wineries over Easter weekend, all signs point to busy summer

Guests are once again flowing into Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries for tastings and tours, turning a corner after two years of restrictions, limited capacities and extensive COVID-19 protocols.

Traffic was brisk at NOTL wineries over the Easter long weekend. In some cases, the volume of visitors topped pre-COVID numbers. In others, it amounted to about half. Either way, wineries welcomed the activity.

At Chateau des Charmes, director of hospitality Martin Lindqvist said that demand on the weekend was stronger than before the pandemic, adding, “We’re incredibly excited, we love having guests at the winery, so we are genuinely excited to welcome people back and to create wonderful experiences for them. It’s been a long time.”

Tim Coons, regional estate manager for Trius and Gretzky Wineries, said visits there and to Peller Estates, which is part of the wine group, were slightly stronger than pre-COVID numbers, with roughly 30,000 visitors to all three NOTL properties over the four days of the Easter weekend.

“It’s been great to see smiling faces and people enjoying being with their friends, and enjoying their experiences at the wineries,” he said.

”I sense people have a renewed sense of positivity.”

Pillitteri Estates has also seen “a significant increase in local tourism from pre-COVID and last year this Easter,” according to Jamie Slingerland, director of viticulture. He says “locals who are dying to get out and do something are visiting and rediscovering what is in their backyard.”

Andrea Kaiser, marketing manager at Reif Estate Winery, said things “were very busy this weekend.”

“People are happy to get out and about. People seem to be feeling lighter and happier, I love to see their smiles.”

Kaiser says they still had just about half of normal traffic for this weekend in pre-COVID terms, at least in part due to the fact that “international visitors, including from the U.S. are just trickling back slowly.”

“Border traffic from the U.S. is increasing, and hopefully it will rebound to previous levels, but right now it’s at about one third of traditional levels,” explained Coons.

Lindqvist said “international tourists aren’t here in numbers yet, but they’re booking. We have bus tours and lunches booked from May right through to October. We had our first Japanese tour booking already.”

Chateau des Charmes has erected its events tent in anticipation of about 50 weddings already booked.

“This is going to be the busiest wedding season in our history,” said Lindqvist.

Coons notes that events are returning to Niagara, and adds “corporate businesses are booking again, as they return to meeting in person with their teams.”

The biggest challenge for the wineries is staffing in the current competitive job market.

Pillitteri has reduced its hours due to staff shortages, and Slingerland notes they have 12 part-time positions open right now.

Lindqvist said “we started recruiting in January, knowing there’s a limited workforce, so we are in good shape, though it’s been a challenge. Our relationships with Brock University and Niagara College have been crucial.”

All eyes are on the summer season, and hopes are pinned on a busy one.

“I feel there’s a pent up appetite to travel and be out and about, so I expect an extremely busy summer. I think it will be super exciting and fulfilling, as people reconnect, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of friendly faces,” said Kaiser.

Also pointing to that pent up desire, Slingerland is optimistic, and expects the summer months to heat up, both weatherwise and tourist-wise, especially in July and August and beyond.

“We’re feeling great, and looking forward to summer. We can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Coons.

Anticipating perhaps the busiest summer yet with evident relish, Lindqvist says, “it’s been two long years of limitations, so it’s great to go full throttle again.”

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