For the past two years, it’s felt like Groundhog Day for many of us working in the tourism industry. Two years of uncertainty, trying to decipher the latest government regulations, battling rising costs, filling in grant and loan applications, suffering revenue losses and having to fight for economic support.
Now, two years after we entered this pandemic, we are starting to see a clear path to a brighter tomorrow. The removal of capacity limits and mandatory POI requirements, the imminent end of the mask mandate and now with the removal of testing for vaccinated travellers at the border, there is a sense of momentum as barriers to travel are steadily being removed. But, despite the battleground starting to change in our favour, the new set of challenges we face are as equally challenging and as important.
You’ve heard us say repeatedly that reopening doesn’t mean recovery and that continues to be our mantra despite the recent positive news. TIAO’s own research, that we have shared with all levels of government, demonstrate that there are significant economic, consumer confidence, labour and logistical challenges that will mean our return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity could take several years to return. Therefore, this week, we wrote to you to ask you to support our work with the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses as we seek to ensure Federal Government support programs continue to reflect the reality on the frontline of the tourism industry and not our projected recovery which could take years to realize.
TIAO has written to all 121 federal Members of Parliament that represent an Ontario riding to ask them to extend and adjust the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program – including extending the program to September, maintaining full wage and rent subsidy rates, adjusting seasonal eligibility, and lowering the revenue loss threshold. We’ve also called on the Federal Government to invest resources into a dedicated tourism and hospitality labour strategy so that our operators have the workforce required to ramp up capacity. If you haven’t read our letter, you can do so here and if you want to send your own prepopulated letter to your local MP supporting our recommendations, you can do so by clicking here.
Our third request in the letter was a call for the removal of testing at the border - a significant barrier to travel – and that was actually confirmed by the federal government today. Last night I appeared on CP24 to react to the speculation that testing at the border was set to end on April 1. You can watch my interview by clicking here, but my main message focused on welcoming the move, but also a sober assessment that this will not mean that the tourism industry will enjoy an immediate recovery. We still need a plan to welcome back unvaccinated travellers, and we need sustained messaging from government that Canada is a safe place to visit.
I was pleased to join Minister Lisa MacLeod and Mayor Jim Diodati in Niagara Falls last week to promote the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit. It was hugely encouraging to see the extensive media coverage of the event, with a clear message that it is time to travel in Ontario.
Last week I was thrilled to attend an in-person conference as I joined colleagues in London at the Southern Ontario Tourism Conference, hosted by Ontario’s Southwest and Hamilton Halton Brant Regional Tourism Association (HHBRTA) regional tourism organizations. Congratulations to Executive Directors Maria Fortunato and Joanne Wolnik and their teams for organizing an excellent couple of days of keynote speakers, informative sessions and an inspiring awards ceremony which I was honoured to host. I’m so excited to be adding new dates to my diary every day for events across the province and meeting so many of you in-person.
Unfortunately, we continue to be inundated with requests for support regarding access to government programs. We continue to challenge incorrect decisions or adjudications on a daily basis. Of course, the final decision rests with the purveyor of the programs, however, we continue to help some members overturn incorrect decisions. Please email our Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Dr. Jessica Ng, with any ongoing problems you might have at email@example.com.
Finally, we’re in the design stage of our micro-website for the Ontario Provincial Election. Our intention is to educate those running for public office on the challenges facing the tourism industry and our important role in the economic recovery of the province. In the coming days you will receive an invitation to take part in our pre-election survey, so that we can gather your viewpoints on what you want prospective Members of the Provincial Parliament and elected/reelected Ministers to do to best assist the tourism industry. We continue to meet with prospective MPP’s and political parties on a rolling basis, most recently meeting the Ontario Liberal Party Rural Policy Committee.
Thank you for taking the time to open the TIAO newsletter and please remember to contact us on the ways listed if you want to speak to us about any issue.
Christopher Bloore, President & CEO, TIAO