It’s been another busy week at TIAO, with movement and traction on some key files to report:
Yesterday, the province announced that in addition to expanding second booster shot eligibility to Ontarians aged 18 and older, it would extend its distribution of free rapid antigen tests beyond July 31st. Free rapid tests will be available to the general public until December 31, 2022 through existing channels like grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as in workplaces, schools, hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes and other congregate settings.
TIAO welcomes this announcement. Over the past many months, TIAO has advocated for the province to expand its supply of free rapid antigen tests and to extend distribution to the general public beyond July 31, raising the issue with ministries at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference and in our pre-budget submission. With testing being a critical component to reducing COVID-19 transmission, reducing worker absenteeism, and keeping our communities and workplaces safe, access to free rapid tests supports the capacity of tourism businesses as they rebuild. TIAO will continue to advocate for expanding general public access to PCR tests.
In a post-meeting update from TIAO’s Northern Ontario Tourism Roundtable last week, MP Eric Melillo (Shadow Minister for FedNor and MP for Kenora) urged Canada’s Minister of Public Safety to immediately end all remaining border restrictions in order to support the tourism industry. In his letter to Minister Mendicino, MP Melillo referenced the challenges tourism operators spoke to at the roundtable in relation to random testing, the vaccine mandate, and the ArriveCAN app. MP Melillo reiterated the message put forward by NOTO, Destination Northern Ontario, and our operators: the remaining border restrictions are curtailing visitation in Northern Ontario at a precarious time and may have lasting economic impact. We thank MP Melillo and look forward to continued collaboration on removing all travel restrictions and rebuilding Northern tourism economies.
With the uneven pace of economic recovery and rebuilding—especially for Northern regions and the rubber tire tourism market—debt relief is more important than ever before. TIAO continues to fight for debt relief for the tourism industry through all possible avenues. However, we’ve been made aware of some worrying practices being demonstrated by some banks in relation to ongoing financing with tourism businesses who continue to suffer from reduced revenues and increasing costs. In partnership with our colleagues at the Ontario Motor Coach Association, we launched a short survey to determine the nature of these practices and their extent, as well as to capture the true economic state of the tourism industry.
Our initial findings show that as of July, year-to-date debt accumulation for 2022 is already 10 percentage points higher than year-end debt levels for 2019. And while more than half of respondents had some type of loan relief during COVID-19—whether in the form of interest-only payments, loan extensions, or payment freezes—69% of respondents reported that their primary lender is no longer continuing to provide these same options. In fact, for the overwhelming majority of respondents, their primary lender: is currently requesting full principal and interest payments (77%); is requesting additional personal collateral to refinance their business (85%); and/or is requesting that they refinance their business (94%).
With two-thirds of respondents estimating that they are at least 2 years away from being profitable again, there is an immediate need for continued debt relief to support the economic viability of tourism businesses across our industry. With our partners, we are continuing to advocate for debt relief, especially for CEBA and RRRF loans—which we recently spoke about with our Conservative colleagues at the Northern Ontario Tourism Roundtable. Stay tuned for updates on our progress with this file.
Thank you for your continued support. And of course, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director, Policy & Government Affairs