On Tuesday’s TIAO stakeholder calls we marked the lifting of capacity restrictions in Ontario. After 714 long days of restrictions, closures and uncertainty, we’re finally now in a position to look forward with confidence about what the 2022 season can bring.
But amongst the relief was a realization that a new set of equally demanding challenges now await us. Whilst we may have left the colour coded public health units and roadmaps to reopen behind, the consequences of the last two years will directly impact the pace and extent of our recovery as an industry. The decisions politicians and decision makers will take in the coming months will have a direct correlation with how efficient and effective our recovery is. So, as we begin to look forward, what is TIAO calling for and working towards?
First and foremost, we need a plan in place for a worst-case scenario - if a new strain of COVID-19 is discovered. Two years into this pandemic we have vaccines and a much better understanding of how to handle the virus. If the worst is to happen, we need a plan in place that doesn’t shut down our economy, provides immediate government relief to businesses and give our industry parity with other sectors such as retail that have been allowed to stay open throughout the crisis.
Secondly, despite the lifting of restrictions, reopening doesn’t mean recovery. You’re probably bored of hearing me say this. But it’s vital that we continue to reaffirm this message to governments and elected politicians at all levels. Our industry will likely be the last to recover fully, so that means extending government support programs well into 2022 and including those seasonal businesses, unincorporated businesses and sole-proprietorships that have been unable to access many support programs previously. We will continue to work with our provincial and national colleagues TIAC and the hardest-hit coalition to promote these recommendations.
Thirdly we need to remove the barriers to travel, starting by phasing out testing at the border and clear and concise communications from government encouraging domestic and international travel. After two years of health professionals and politicians describing the dangers of COVID-19, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for some, returning to normal won’t come easily. Recent data released by Abacus showed that 43% of Canadians felt not comfortable at all going to a full sports stadium and 39% felt not comfortable at all getting on an airplane. These fears will require us as an industry to show flexibility to accommodate those nervous travelers, but it also requires government to show the same vigor in encouraging travel as they did in asking Canadians to stay home. In addition, we will need our destination marketing organizations to have the firepower to compete with our international competitors that are seeking to eat into our share of the market.
We all recognize our industry is nothing without our workforce. The last two years have meant many have lost their jobs and many have sought opportunities in different sectors. We need long-term strategies to increase the number of workers looking to the tourism industry as a future career. That means changes to our education curriculum, dispelling the myths associated with working in our industry, changes to our immigration system and providing pathways into the tourism industry for underrepresented groups. Only by addressing all of these key points can we ensure that our industry has the conducive environment to recapture the progress that was being made before March 2020 and will form the foundation of TIAO’s work in 2022.
Finally, as we draw closer to the Ontario Provincial election, we’ve started to put together our plans to educate every provincial and municipal candidate for office about the importance of the tourism industry to our economic recovery. This week we met with Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca and used the opportunity to talk about some of the challenges we face as an industry that I listed above. TIAO is a strictly non-partisan group but we are committed to ensuring that whomever is elected Premier of the province in June, or whatever government is elected, they know exactly the type of support we need from government from Day 1.
TIAO continues to support members in grant applications at both the provincial and federal level. Last week we were able to confirm that a second round of emails to pre-screened applications to the Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant had been sent. But we continue to push for more answers for those businesses that are left in the dark on their applications. We are committed to ensuring that all monies allocated for our industry reach their intended targets. We can’t scrimp on our recovery, for every dollar that we invest we know the return in jobs and economic activity is significant.
Thank you for taking the time to read this update and please feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
Christopher Bloore, President & CEO, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario