Worldwide, the tourism sector is one of the most affected by the pandemic. In Canada the situation is no different, with tourism being a large economic slice of the country.
How will this problem be handled? Where should Canadians go for vacation this summer?
We had the opportunity to speak with Christopher Bloore, Director, Communications and Media Relations for Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), to understand how this crisis is affecting them and what do they expect from the future.
Milénio Stadium: With Canada having its borders closed, as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus, what will the summer be like in the country in terms of tourism?
Christopher Bloore: The impacts of COVID-19 on the Ontario tourism industry are both politically and geographically specific – the largest impact being the closed US border to Northern Ontario. There is certainly a shift toward hyper-local tourism across Ontario, and we are seeing many benefits to that, as tourism businesses are able to pivot to a new market, albeit at a very reduced operating capacity. However, for many northern tourism operators and resource-based tourism in the Northern regions of the province, up to 100% of their visitors in the summer are from the US. At TIAO we are focused on ensuring that the tourism businesses that are able to re-open have the regulatory support, and the economic required. And we are continuing to highlight the need for additional support for operators who have lost their entire summer.
MS: Canadians have been advised not to leave the country for non-essential travel. Do you believe that the percentage of visitors will be offset by domestic tourism?
CB: Prior to COVID-19 the tourism industry in Ontario was growing exponentially, and the international visitor economy was a significant part of that growth. While we cannot predict the future, we are working with many provincial ministries to ensure that when we can safely re-open the borders, we will have the necessary contact testing and tracing in place to re-build the international visitor economy. We hope that the rise of domestic tourism within Ontario will also continue, as people begin to explore the province in which they live in new ways.
MS: Where should Canadians spend their holidays if they want to be safe? Which destinations are recommended?
CB: Ontario, Ontario and Ontario! The Ontario tourism businesses that are re-opening in Ontario are implementing best-practices in their operating procedures. We are proud to represent an industry that is continuing to prioritize the safety and health of their staff, and all visitors, while showcasing everything our province has to offer. Destination Ontario, the official marketing arm of Ontario continues to showcase what is out there for people to enjoy.
MS: Knowing that tourism has an important weight in the Canadian economy, what can the country expect from this crisis generated by the pandemic?
CB: Prior to the historic shutdown of the industry, tourism in Ontario represented more than 400,000 workers and over 200,000 businesses, with a GDP contribution of $36 billion, and an annual tax revenue of $5 billion; tourism in Ontario has a greater economic impact than forestry, mining, and agriculture combined.
This growth was a benefit not only to the tourism businesses and workers, but to the communities and people that directly benefited from the tax revenue and community infrastructure.
I think we will see a very serious loss of the contribution the visitor economy makes to municipal and provincial tax bases, community infrastructure, jobs, and the way it contributes to vibrant communities. We proud to represent a resilient and powerful industry, and we know that what is lost now will be recovered and re-built, but we certainly do not want to downplay how just how significant the role of tourism is, and the losses incurred by the temporary shutdown of vibrant industry.
MS: What is the outlook for employers and employees linked to the tourism sector? Are there high levels of unemployment? How would you characterize the economic situation of these companies?
CB: In terms of job loss, there was no other industry hit as hard as tourism.. The full impact remains to be seen; however, we know that our sector has to date lost more than 18 B in revenue, and as of May 2020, an estimated 240,000 tourism and hospitality workers in Ontario have lost their jobs. Others are working reduced shifts or returning to work in a vastly changed environment.
We are incredibly proud of the work that our partners at the Ontario Tourism Education Corporation (OTEC) ARE undertaking to support tourism workers who have been laid off or experienced drastically reduced hours. We are involved with Tourism Skills Net Ontario and the Tourism and Hospitality Emergency Response program they have developed.
It is hard to predict the future, but what we do know is that this pandemic has ushered in the largest disruption to interactive service work we have ever seen. The tourism businesses that are able to re-open and that are eligible are relying on the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to sustain portions of their workforce. For many tourism businesses they are operating so far below their capacity, or they are not open, it becomes a serious concern of taking on insurmountable debt levels. We are hearing from tourism businesses that they will require economic aid into 2021 in order to remain economically viable.