Today, January 18th, is the deadline for tourism businesses with CEBA or RRRF loans to repay most of their loan in order to have up to $20,000 forgiven. After today, CEBA and RRRF loans will start to incur 5 per cent interest with the full principal amount due at the end of 2026. Operators who secure refinancing have until March 28 to repay their loan while maintaining access to the forgivable portion. As we have advocated in meetings, submissions, letters, media appearances, alongside our partners, and in our 2022 State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report: this is not enough.
Businesses who have been impacted by the slow return of key markets, high interest rates, inflation, rising commercial costs, the labour crisis, and dampened consumer sentiment need more time to generate the revenue required to pay down their debts. The absence of an extension will weigh heavily on the capacity of small tourism businesses to recover sooner and to take advantage of the opportunities to grow, thrive—and generate the tax revenues that support our economy, our social services, and help pay down the provincial and national debts.
We are disappointed that the federal government has not heeded our calls for much-needed debt relief. But we thank our partners for advocating alongside us, including the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. We also thank Premier Doug Ford and Minister Neil Lumsden for their advocacy on our industry’s behalf right up until today’s deadline.
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk about the debt and labour challenges that Ontario tourism businesses are still facing, and which have been exacerbated by the unseasonably warm weather we saw over the holidays. In case you missed my media appearances, you can find them at CityTV, CTV Barrie, and NEWSTALK 1010.
I also had the opportunity last week to present before the provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. This was a valuable opportunity for TIAO to illustrate that while we are recovering and rebuilding, the economic contribution of our industry is still not quite where it needs to be. While we have regained the domestic visitor market, international numbers remain below pre-pandemic figures and behind some of our domestic competitors. The US market, for instance, is down 14 percent from 2019 and the Chinese market is still down 79 percent. As of last summer, convention bookings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and Ottawa Convention Centre alone were down by over 40 percent compared to 2019. For many local festivals and events, attendance and revenues have not returned to 2019 levels, with ongoing challenges in obtaining the required public and private funding. Inflation and the cost-of-living crisis have dampened consumer spending. And while rates have gone up, hotel occupancy is still down by 25 percent. Moreover, seasonal businesses have borne the brunt of climate change impacts, with summer wildfires and warm winter weather affecting the length of key tourism seasons and the perception of Ontario as a consistently reliable visitor destination.
In the Committee hearing, TIAO called for: provincial budgetary investments to attract major events and conventions, which will inject direct visitor dollars into local, regional, and provincial economies; the implementation of many recommendations outlined in the Auditor General’s report, including strategic regional planning to take destination marketing to the next level, recalibrating existing funding opportunities, better leveraging gateway cities and our convention centres, and developing a data strategy to guide local and regional tourism planning; and, ultimately, the need for a tourism strategy in partnership with our industry and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport—a strategy which will increase economic productivity for industry and for government.
Finally, TIAO will be attending the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference next week. With the support of our tourism delegation and led by our incoming President & CEO, Andrew Siegwart, TIAO will be advocating for a number of economic, labour, and infrastructure asks and building support around the Cabinet table for a provincial tourism strategy.
Three weeks into 2024 and TIAO’s advocacy is full steam ahead.
Thank you for your continued support. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Jessica Ng, PhD
Director, Policy & Government Affairs