The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the face of travel in 2020 and beyond.
As Canada slowly relaxes lifestyle restrictions after months of lockdown and social distancing, many will be clawing at the doors for an escape to the great outdoors to breathe in the fresh air, reconnect with nature, and reboot their mind and spirits.
When Canadians feel it is safe to travel again, there is no doubt that they will be looking for vacation options that are closer to home (and certainly within Canada), easy to access, with an itinerary and pace that is within their own control.
Le Boat may just be the right answer.
Le Boat has been in operations for 50 years, offering self-drive boat charters in eight European countries. (In 2018, the company launched operations in Ontario’s Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Additionally: 5Continents, which offers worldwide inbound operators and other suppliers a sales representation and transactional platform in Canada, recently added Le Boat to its portfolio.
Captain of your own boat
With a base in Smiths Falls, ON, Le Boat allows travellers to pick up a cruiser and head north towards Ottawa or south to Kingston.
Unlike hotels and campgrounds, Le Boat offers private accommodations and facilities that are not shared with other travellers during your entire holiday.
As the captain of your own boat, you set your own agenda and pace, covering as much or as little ground (or in this case, water) as you like.
And best of all, previous boating experience and a boating license are not required – because you are only renting the vessel.
Along the scenic Rideau Canal, an expansive network of lakes offers endless itinerary options for cruising, fishing, swimming, and watersports, and friendly lockmasters provide full assistance as you transit through the historic locks.
Easy to drive
I recently had the opportunity to visit Le Boat’s base in Smiths Falls and spoke with Lisa Mclean, Le Boat’s marketing manager for Canada, USA, and Latin America.
Being a non-boater, my first question immediately went to operating the boat, which Mclean was quick to address: “All our boats are very easy to drive. They are completely protected with rubber fenders all around, and the cruising speed has been capped at 10 km per hour. In addition, bow and aft thrusters enable easily maneuvering, turning, and docking. We provide safety videos, full hands-on operations, and safety demonstrations by our staff to make sure you are completely comfortable before taking the boat out. The Parks Canada staff at the lock stations are super friendly and they will practically do all the work for you.”
A tour of the vessels proves that Le Boat has indeed thought of everything.
Along with bright interiors and a well-designed, functional layout is a kitchen that is equipped with all the cooking, dining, and cleaning needs, and a top deck barbecue.
Mclean pointed out that Le Boat commissions new builds to be added to its fleet every year, and each generation of new boats comes with enhanced features as suggested from last year’s client comments.
“We listen very closely to client feedback and submit them to our headquarters for next year’s boats," said Mclean. "For example, after our first season, our guests suggested a coffee maker, toaster, and a larger fridge with freezer onboard. So they were added to our new boats the following year. Our newest boats now also have USB outlets in the bedrooms, at the helm, and additional power outlets up on the top deck. We’ve also enlarged the top deck space and added cushion wraps on the railings for additional comfort, all because our clients suggested them.”
With everything supplied, all travellers need to bring are their clothes and food, but for added convenience, Le Boat also offers a grocery stocking service.
Other optional add-ons include bike, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak rentals, early check-in or late check-out. Boaters can also bring on a maximum of two pets, with a pet cleaning supplement fee.
The most important question of course is what Le Boat is doing to address the public’s concerns regarding travel and COVID-19.
In the press release issued in June announcing Le Boat’s 2020 season launch, Cheryl Brown, managing director of Le Boat, addressed the ways the company is preparing to receive guests.
“We recognized that we needed to evolve our current operations to make sure that we have taken every precaution to afford our customers an even safer and healthier holiday experience with us. Within this new environment, our goal is to provide guests and employees with confidence and reassurance that their health and safety is, and always has been our number one priority," she said.
Following Ontario’s new Health and Safety Guidelines, Le Boat has implemented comprehensive health and safety protocols under the COVID Safety Charter, with strict measures such as:
- Practising social distancing for guest registration at the Smiths Falls base, with all staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Sending all pre-departure information as well as compulsory safety videos to guests in advance, and processing all payments before arrival.
- Conducting onsite boat handling demonstrations and safety briefings by staff wearing PPE.
- Deep-cleaning and sanitization of all touchpoints on boats using disinfectant sprays that have been proven to kill the COVID-19 virus.
- Washing all linens and towels at high temperatures and handled only by staff wearing PPE.
Le Boat also introduced the Go Boating with Confidence initiative which allows travellers to cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive a booking credit, redeemable up to 2021.
Mclean also highlights additional useful information for travel advisors to offer Le Boat as a vacation option to clients:
PAX: How many boats do you have in the Canadian fleet?
Lisa Mclean (LM): We have a fleet of 24 premier Horizon Cruisers, ranging in size from two to five bedrooms, sleeping from two to twelve people.
PAX: How long is your operating season this year and what is your availability looking like for the rest of the year?
LM: Our Canadian Base on the Rideau Canal is operational in 2020 from June 1st-Oct 12th. Due to the recent travel restrictions for USA and European travellers, we actually have a lot of availability for 2020.
PAX: How early do clients have to reserve their boat?
LM: We do have some people who book as early as a year in advance, local travellers typically book one to three months prior to departure. Understandably, this season we expect a lot of last-minute bookings within one to two weeks prior to departure, but don’t wait too long as you may be disappointed as the boat or date you want may be sold out!
PAX: How does Le Boat work with travel advisors?
LM: Le Boat is happy to work with the travel agent community and we have seen a huge growth in agent sales since opening our first North American base in Canada and started promoting cruises on the Rideau Canal. We offer 10 percent commission with overrides available after booking five charters. We provide bilingual sales & marketing support in both English and French. Le Boat also has a preferred partnership with Ensemble Travel.
MT: How do travel agents make a reservation for their clients?
LM: Booking a boating holiday is very similar to booking an RV or car rental. Just call our sales team at 1-800-734-5491 and ask for service in English or French. Clients simply choose the boat that is right for their group size and any extras they wish to add. We provide them with a sample itinerary but the clients choose what time they get up each morning and plan their own itinerary as to where they want to go and what they want to do. Le Boat is the leader in Canal boating holidays and our sales team is here to help you make your first booking in Canada or one of our many European Destinations.
For more information, visit Le Boat’s Canadian website.