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BACK TO BUSINESS: River Bend Motel presses on amid pandemic vacancy slump

Opening River Bend Motel during the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging but guest numbers are slowly increasing, said owner Daniel Jackson, in Fort Good Hope. photo courtesy of Daniel Jackson

Daniel Jackson is blunt about the experience of opening a new motel during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Horrible. Horrible. There's no business,” he said over the phone from Fort Good Hope.

He had been trying to open River Bend Motel since 2018 but struggled to find funding for upgrades to the building, which had been sitting unused since 2014.

“I put too much into this building to just leave it. I've been struggling since 2018 to open. I didn't want to give up on it,” he said.

With some help from Sahtu MLA Paulie Chinna, and a lot of persistence on his part, approval of his business licence finally came in August 2020. The following month he opened his doors to guests.

River Bend has two one-bedroom suites and five bachelor suites. A basic breakfast is included with stays.

Jackson's opening months were tough going, with few customers in the fall and winter. Pulling the plug crossed his mind a few times.

“There was a political gathering here in December. They had five people stay. That helped me stay open to pay my bills. At Christmas, I was ready to shut down, and then people came into Fort Good Hope for the fireworks. So I did a deal: fireworks and a New Year's Eve gathering. I gave everyone a deal of $150 a night.”

January and February have been better. About 25 people have stayed at the motel so far this year.

“That's how I'm staying open now. Different government employees are coming in and local businesses coming to town. I have regular customers. It's been going a lot better,” Jackson said.

A grant for $20,000 from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment helped him keep the lights on. He had to contribute $7,000 towards the grant.

Sales of wood to members of the Sahtu community have also partly helped him keep River Bend open.

“Wood is a hot commodity right now. Everyone is looking for wood because of the cold.”

And it seems grit runs in his family.

He didn't want his motel to go the way of Jackson's Bed and Breakfast, which his father Wilfrid ran in Fort Good Hope until the Covid-19 pandemic began.

His father managed to access government assistance and plans to reopen the bed and breakfast in March.

Despite the relative slowness of his motel, Jackson is already looking ahead to his next project of opening a takeout stand in April.

“I'll put it in one of my empty rooms at the motel. Just basic breakfasts and burger and fries and maybe wild meat, if I can get the approvals," he said. "I have to renovate it. I just want to start something simple.”