Sea Otter Eco Tours, owned by Blair McClean and George Fraser, has had three times as many customers this year as it did the previous year, its first year of operation.
In 2019 it ran about 68 tours, guiding approximately 200 people from all over the world. Most of the clients have come from England, but many have also come from Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, France, United States and other parts of Canada.
Blair McClean conceived of the idea just by showing up in Port Alice and having a look around. All that was needed for start-up was a boat and a website.
McClean and Fraser get most of their customers from the internet, but they also advertise in local tourist information centres. Clearly, the internet age offers a “leg up” for a little remote town “at the end of a long and winding road.”
The eco tours season runs from May 1 to Oct. 1. The tours usually start around 9:00 a.m. or earlier with a short safety briefing.
After 15 minutes by boat, they arrive at the first location for sea otter watching at Ingersol. Another 15 minutes brings them to the second location at Mahatta River. Sometimes they check out local historical sites, like the Quatsino Museum, Pamphlet Cove, and the old homestead places at Mahatta River. A client who wrote a review on Trip Advisor was effusive about seeing a crane remove logs from logging trucks and release them into the water. The tour is five to six hours with lunch.
The amount of sea otters that tourists can see in any one spot ranges from 2-40. Sometimes, the sea otters have something going on elsewhere and have temporarily abandoned their hangout spot. Luckily, if one viewing spot is abandoned, there are usually sea otters at the other.
According to Fraser, who guides the tours, the response from tourists is overwhelmingly positive. He often gets comments like “it’s the best trip they’ve had in their three weeks in Canada.”
The tours also come across sea lions, seals and eagles. Fraser says he has seen one Orca this year. There are no grizzly bears in this area, but black bears occasionally make an appearance.
Sea Otter Tours doesn’t advertise whale sightings because there are not many of them, though they sometimes get serendipitously added in as a bonus. For a fee of $235 per person, the trip includes exciting wildlife viewing, breath-taking scenery, and is a nice excursion on the water for a day.
McClean and Fraser have no plans for expansion, but hope to have more people per trip to increase their profit margin.
Recently, before shutting down for the season, Fraser had been out on the water for 18 days in a row. At 73, he has no plans to retire. He enjoys the work because it’s “a lot of fun meeting people from all over the world.”
As for complaints about Port Alice, there are few, except for “the normal ones, no restaurant, no hotel… that’s the biggest complaint… but everybody loves the scenery.”
Eco Tours has recently upgraded to a larger boat, a 28-foot Kingfisher that offers plenty of space and protection from the elements.
The boat is licensed to hold 12 people, but Fraser likes to cap the load at eight.
It has a small bathroom that makes the traditional bucket bathroom a thing of the past.
– Debra Lynn article