Simon MacKay is part of a collective of Sydney-area taxi drivers who are seeing a 30% increase in demand for private tours around Cape Breton compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The group offers full-day trips along Nova Scotia’s famous Cabot Trail or scenic coastal drives to places like Baddeck.
“People want to go exploring,” MacKay said. “And they want to go out, and they don’t care what it costs them, but they want to do it independently.”
MacKay has heard various reasons why tourists choose a private car.
He was told that some fear being in large groups and running the risk of catching COVID-19, while others want to customize their vacations with stops that match their interests.
For one or two people, a day trip by taxi around the Cabot Trail will cost $400, while a return trip from Sydney to Baddeck will cost around $250.
MacKay said this year 23 taxi drivers are running private tours, up from just six last year.
“I think the concept of independent travel will only go [up]”, he said. “There is a big difference in the age of people disembarking from cruise ships. People are much younger… [they] want to do their own thing and want to see their own thing.”
Misty MacDonald runs Cabot Discovery Tours Inc. in Baddeck which offers trips around the island in a minivan.
She is surprised by the number of people looking to book tours this summer.
“The demand is really out of this world. So far this year, we’ve probably exceeded sales more than anything we’ve done in previous years so far. And certainly more than we’ve done in 2021. ”
MacDonald said private operators were busy for a variety of reasons, including a lack of rental cars in the area.
There are also slightly fewer tour operators and more passengers arriving on cruise ships than expected.
“We weren’t very prepared,” MacDonald said. “As I said, we were a bit cautious at the start. So really uncertain. We were kind of on our own, trying to make sure we had enough vehicles and enough guides to handle the demand. “
MacDonald said so far she’s been nearly booked for the summer season and has a waiting list for customers wanting a scenic drive across the island this fall to take in the brilliant fall foliage.
As for MacKay, he said many of their taxi tours also book up weeks in advance.