The novel coronavirus outbreak is having a mixed impact on businesses in downtown Toronto, with some experiencing a drop in revenue while others continuing to enjoy the same number of clientele, local business leaders say.
Tonny Louie, chair of the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area, said on Wednesday he thinks Chinatown businesses may be among the hardest hit. He said because the virus started in China, then spread to other countries, the growing number of cases has generated much fear.
“I tell you, it’s funny. There are some businesses that are really suffering, but there are some that there is absolutely no change at all,” Louie said.
“As we know, this is a localized problem. In areas where there is concentration of particular businesses, people tend to stay away until such time as they know that the spread is not community-wide. There are some changes,” he added.
“Then again, it’s not all businesses that have gone down 50 per cent. Some businesses are still the same. Some are full and busy all the time. It has a lot to do with the fear factor of that particular segment of the population.”
Louie said the BIA is providing local businesses with wall-mounted hand sanitizing dispensers to enhance hygiene during the outbreak. The association estimates there are more than 500 businesses in Toronto’s Chinatown. It stretches north to south on Spadina Avenue between College and Sullivan streets, east to west on Dundas Street West from Augusta Avenue to Beverly Street, and Huron Street between D’Arcy Street and Dundas Street West.
For Charlie Lin, owner of the Sky Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Toronto, the COVID-19 outbreak has been bad news. Thirty per cent of his staff is on rotating two-week vacations because of the drop in revenue.
“This virus really hurt our business,” Lin told CBC Toronto on Tuesday. “It cut down our business almost 50 per cent to 60 per cent.”
Lin said the restaurant checks its profits every day and the drop was evident when it compare its numbers in February this year with that of February last year. There are fewer non-Asian people eating at the restaurant, he added.
He said the drop in business makes him sad. He was a waiter at the restaurant during the SARS crisis in 2003 and he said he had to take a forced vacation for a month at that time.
“It was a very hard time for us. We couldn’t close down the restaurant, but still we lost money.”
Terry Mundell, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, said the group has observed a two per cent drop in the occupancy rate of downtown Toronto hotels in February this year as compared to that of last year. The total number of hotel rooms in downtown Toronto is 17,274. The association represents 170 hotels.
“We have been watching this fairly closely, obviously since the virus started. It’s a situation that we pay a great deal of attention to,” Mundell said.
“Obviously, that’s not too bad at this point in time, but we can’t not be vigilant. We have to pay attention. As business starts to swing, we never know where this is going to end up. Right now, we’re okay.”
As for the tourism sector, it’s being closely watched, according to Andrew Weir, executive vice president of Tourism Toronto.
Weir said Tourism Toronto expects to see fewer visitors from China this year because of travel restrictions imposed on Chinese citizens, but he hopes the numbers will rebound. The numbers will be lower in the first quarter, he said.
China accounts for 6 percent of Toronto’s international visitors, whereas the U.S. accounts for 60 percent.
“It’s early to see any changes yet in in travel patterns. We are, of course, monitoring the global travel situation and seeing some trends globally that likely will affect Toronto,” Weir said.
“What I think is important to note is that Toronto really has quite a diversified business mix from visitor market standpoint. We are not over dependent on one geographic market or segment of the market. While China is an important market — in fact, it’s our largest overseas market — it still only accounts for about six per cent of our international visitors.”
The Ontario government, meanwhile, says it is monitoring how global fears about COVID-19 are having an effect on the provincial economy.
In a scrum with reporters at Queen’s Park, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the provincial government is looking at how the novel coronavirus outbreak is affecting supply chains, tourism and consumer confidence.
Later, in an interview with CBC’s Power and Politics, Phillips said: “Obviously, everybody is monitoring it and it affects different provinces differently, but we’ll keep a close eye on that, and sure, we’re ready to respond if there’s something required to support the economy.”