With the holidays approaching, TIAO is wrapping up another busy year for tourism advocacy:
2023 was the first full year where we welcomed visitors back to Ontario since 2020. Economic recovery got off to an encouraging start with visitors resuming the travel plans that they had put on hold over the last few years. Our industry responded with compelling visitor experiences, competing with domestic and global destinations for a larger share of visitor spend. The message that we put forward time and again: Rediscover Ontario.
But not all markets were recovering to the same degree, with the US market still slow to return to Northern Ontario and events experiencing rising operational costs. Inflation, high interest rates, debt, and supply chain disruptions stymied recovery in most markets, with the rising cost of living and the housing crisis exacerbating challenges in recruitment, retention, and consumer travel sentiment.
While revenues and visitor numbers are improving, our industry continues to face new and ongoing challenges on the road to rebuilding. This is the message that we delivered to elected officials along with our tourism delegation at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs at Queen’s Park, the federal Ontario Liberal caucus, the federal Conservative tourism caucus, in our meetings with ministry officials, in media engagements, in events with stakeholders across Ontario, and alongside our TIAO members in our first in-person Tourism Day at Queen’s Park since pre-pandemic.
With tourism operators dealing with staggering debt – and even more so in Northern Ontario – 2023 marked 2 years of TIAO debt relief advocacy. This year, we joined our partners in a coalition led by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to call on the federal government to extend the interest-free repayment deadline/deadline to qualify for partial loan forgiveness for CEBA and RRRF loans. We lobbied our case to Minister Neil Lumsden, who advocated tirelessly on our industry’s behalf to deliver on debt relief for hard-hit operators. To our dismay, the federal government extended the deadline by a mere 18 days to January 18, 2024.
Meanwhile, we saw the release this year of the much-anticipated Federal Tourism Growth Strategy and subsequently the rollout of the $108 million Tourism Growth Program through the Regional Development Agencies. After TIAO and industry feedback, we welcomed the earlier launch of the Experience Ontario program to help deliver Ontario festivals and events in 2024. And today, we welcomed the pivotal announcement on the Master Framework Agreement and the expansion of the sale of beer, cider, wine, and low-alcohol beverages to convenience, grocery, and big box stores—a move driven by our partners at Ontario Craft Brewers, Ontario Craft Wineries, and Wine Growers Ontario to support the economic growth and competitiveness of Ontario’s wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries and the value they bring to visitor destinations across the province.
It is no surprise to us that there is a symbiotic relationship between a thriving tourism sector, the success of local businesses, and the strength our economy: When Ontario destinations attract more visitors, tourism and hospitality businesses benefit through direct spending that creates a positive ripple effect for other economic sectors and for local employment; government benefits through increased tax revenue generated from visitor spending and employment income—revenue which, in turn, can be put towards critical human services, community infrastructure, and to paying down the provincial and national debts.
When tourism does well, so does Ontario. As we head into 2024, this is the message that we will deliver to government. As the provincial and federal governments pursue fiscal restraint, now is the time for government to invest in our industry. Now is the time to realize even greater return on tourism investment.
The TIAO office closes for the holidays tomorrow but before we do, a quick note of thanks to Minister Lumsden and our partners at the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for their ongoing support, collaboration, and shared passion for the economic and intrinsic value of tourism in Ontario. We look forward to continued collaboration in the New Year to take Ontario’s tourism industry to new heights.
Of course, a heartfelt thanks goes out to Chris Bloore for his outstanding leadership at TIAO. Chris has been a staunch advocate of the industry and an unwavering source of support for so many operators during the darkest hours, leading our industry from standstill to a place of recovery and now rebuilding. With Chris’s departure, a definitive chapter at TIAO has closed and we begin a new one in 2024.
And as always, thank you to all our TIAO members for your continued support. Your feedback is valued and helps ensure that we are always representing the needs of the industry.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
On behalf of TIAO, happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year.
Dr. Jessica Ng
Director, Policy & Government Affairs
Tourism Industry Association of Ontario