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Matthew Jelley is mayor of the resort municipality that includes Cavendish, P.E.I., and president of Maritime Fun Group, the company that owns many of the big attractions in that community. A family business, its ownership includes brothers Peter, Mark and John Jelley.
Tropical storm Dorian damaged Maritime Fun Group’s attractions in September 2019. COVID-19 severely reduced the company’s capacity this year.
Maritime Fun Group reopened all its attractions with social distancing, extra cleaning and face masks in a bid to slow financial losses and keep the infrastructure in good working order. The company availed itself of assistance provided by Ottawa and Prince Edward Island, and expanded by buying two businesses.
The company that operates many of Cavendish’s biggest attractions is still standing and expanding after what could easily have been a one-two knockout punch: tropical storm Dorian and COVID-19.
Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, says the P.E.I. firm expanded this year with the acquisition of two businesses that employ 13 full- and part-time employees.
“We opened a new dairy bar and a new cafe,” Jelley says.
The Chillz Dairy Bar, located in the Mariner’s Cove Boardwalk in Cavendish, is a yogurt stand that was picked up for an undisclosed amount from Linda and Gary Lowther. Maritime Fun Group converted it to also offer standard dairy bar items because this worked better with social distancing requirements.
The Seaside Café/Pretzelmaker, also bought for an undisclosed amount, is a Starbucks coffee shop and pretzel place with treats made in Charlottetown.
The two acquisitions were made during one of Maritime Fun Group’s toughest years. Revenues were down to less than a quarter of what they would normally be at the company’s big attractions. A private company, Maritime Fun Group, owned by Matthew Jelley and his brothers, Peter, Mark and John Jelley, does not divulge revenues or profits.
But Matthew said COVID-19 severely slashed revenues.
“At most of our walk-up attractions, we’re down 50 per cent. At our bigger attractions, we’re down 80 per cent.”
Among those bigger attractions are the Shining Waters Family Fun Park and Sandspit amusement park. During the summer, there are usually long lines to get into them.
Not this year.
“To ensure physical distancing, we had to reduce the capacity of Sandspit and Shining Waters by 85 per cent,” says Jelley.
“We had to put in a reservation system and people had to call ahead.”
At the company’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium and Wax World of the Stars, staff would let in groups of people in the same family or bubble and physically distance them from other guests.
“We were making them stay one gallery behind each other, and we kept it to one household per bubble,” says Jelley.
Maritime Fun Group is the operating name through which the Jelleys own all those businesses, as well as Mariner’s Cove Real Miniature Golf, River of Adventure Mini Golf, Mariner’s Cove Boardwalk, Greco Pizza in Cavendish, Pit Stop Karting at Sandspit, Yippee’s! Playcade, Mariner’s Cove Mining Company, the Route 6 Motel, the Piping Plover Canteen, the Hangar Laser Tag Arena and the Cordial Cafe in Cavendish.
The family also owns the Magic Mountain waterslides and amusement park in Moncton.
In 2019, Maritime Fun Group was enjoying its strongest year yet. Then Dorian hit and made a mess of the end of the season.
The electricity in Cavendish was out for five days. Big trees were toppled. Roofs were damaged.
In the wake of that, Prince Edward Island National Park, famed for its access to Cavendish Beach, remained closed this summer as crews repaired damage and created new campsites.
Maritime Fun Group was hit hard, as well.
“We had almost $30,000 in damages just from the storm itself . . . and because it was spread out over a number of properties, it wasn’t something we were looking to recoup through our insurance,” says Jelley.
“It was a tough finish to what was otherwise a good season.”
The Jelleys were hoping to kick-start this season early and recoup lost revenue. But COVID-19 swept into Canada, and a normal tourism season was off the table.
“This year, we opened . . . two to three weeks late,” says Jelley.
“The Atlantic bubble hadn’t opened yet, and the Prince Edward Island market isn’t large enough to sustain our attractions.”
Maritime Fun Group initially planned to only operate four days a week this year. The Atlantic bubble, though, was good for the company as staycationers came to Cavendish. Quickly, Maritime Fun Group revised its plans and attractions were only closed on Mondays.
With the slowdown, the company took on fewer employees this year.
“In a normal year, we employ about 350 but we had 198 this year,” says Jelley.
The permanent employees, including mechanics, grass cutters and maintenance staff, were all hired back, but there were a lot fewer jobs for hourly staff who greet guests and operate the rides.
Those employees also had extra cleaning duties, starting an hour earlier every morning with a backpack to sanitize everything at the Shining Waters park and also taking an hour every day to clean everything at the Sandspit amusement park.
Roughly $50,000 was spent on extra supplies, equipment and salaries to implement new COVID-19 procedures at Maritime Fun Group’s P.E.I. operations, says Jelley.
This year, those jobs were only made possible because of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which covered a large portion of salaries.
“The wage subsidy was, for us, what allowed us to open,” says Jelley.
He gives high marks to the P.E.I. government for acting quickly with financial assistance for the tourism industry. Under its Tourism Interest Relief Program, Prince Edward Island agreed to pay the interest on the long-term debt of tourism operators who saw a minimum drop of 30 per cent in revenue.
The province also had smaller programs that benefited Maritime Fun Group. These included the Workplace Adaptation Assistance Fund. It paid up to $2,000 per location for physical changes to a workspace, including Plexiglas dividers or new walls or entryways, or the purchase of new equipment, including hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations. The program also covered personal protective equipment like face masks and shields, gloves and gowns, as well as signage.
Maritime Fun Group also got a Canada Emergency Business Account loan. Under that program, up to 25 per cent of a $40,000 interest-free loan does not need to be paid back, provided the borrower pays the balance by the end of 2022. That program was expanded to include an additional $20,000 interest-free loan that forgives $10,000.
CEBA makes less of a difference to medium-sized and big businesses.
“It’s a good program,” says Jelley.
“It’s just a relatively blunt instrument. One of the things missing from a lot of these programs is something for medium-sized businesses . . . something that’s scaled.”
Even with all the financial aid programs, Maritime Fun Group is in the red this year.
It was clear at the start of the season this would be a tough year, but Maritime Fun Group decided to open for two reasons: the need to slow the financial hemorrhaging that would otherwise be worse if the attractions were shut down, and to ensure all its equipment was maintained in good working order.
“We had fixed costs to keep our facilities idle,” says Jelley.
“You still have to cut the grass and weed the flowerbeds . . . and, being seasonal, it’s hard on the equipment. The water pumps, for example, would like to be running 12 months of the year.”
Ottawa’s plan is to have enough COVID-19 vaccine to ensure every Canadian can be vaccinated by the end of next year. That, though, will likely be too slow to make a difference for Maritime Fun Group next season.
“We’re open 80 days during the year, from Father’s Day to Labour Day,” says Jelley.
“Until a vaccine has been dispensed to the larger population, it will not have a significant impact.”
He is pinning his hopes on the return of the Atlantic bubble.
The Pivot is a regular feature about an Atlantic Canadian company adapting to new market realities with innovative products, services or strategies. To suggest a business, email: [email protected]