As we approach the end of January, advocacy at TIAO has had a non-stop first month of 2022:
Since before the holidays, we were aware that the province’s requirement to use the vaccine certificate with QR code in settings where proof of vaccination is required would pose a serious problem for international visitors without a QR code and other groups (such as Indigenous patrons) facing access barriers to the vaccine certificate. For the past 4 weeks, we have been pressing the Ministry of Health for a solution. As indoor settings are set to reopen on January 31st, we are expecting an announcement from the government tomorrow with guidance on QR codes for international visitors. We are pleased that a solution is about to be announced.
As we approach the first phase of reopening in Ontario, we also await the consolidated public health regulations. With a month-long closure of indoor settings in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, business revenues have suffered, having lost the prime revenue-generating period of the holiday season. It is time for our tourism and hospitality businesses to resume their recovery.
This week, we brought TIAO's advocacy directly to rural municipalities and the province’s Cabinet ministers and staff at the 2022 ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) conference. With our tourism delegation—consisting of NOTO, Destination Northern Ontario, ITO, SEO, Resorts of Ontario, RTO9, Kingston Accommodation Partners, Blue Mountain Village Association, and the Ontario Snow Resorts Association—we met with 15 ministries and the Green Party of Ontario.
In every meeting, our focus was the recovery of rural tourism businesses and the need for continued government support. With the data you provided us in our ongoing survey on the challenges facing tourism businesses in 2022, we conveyed the precarious situation facing Ontario’s 200,000 tourism businesses. More than half of the province’s tourism businesses reported decreased bookings and rising cancellations since the Omicron variant was first detected in November. Since the start of the pandemic, 7 in 10 businesses have taken on up to $500,000 in debt to remain afloat and anticipate that it will take at least 2 years to resolve. Moreover, half of our members reported a pessimistic outlook for the recovery of their business and the industry as a whole. As we close in on two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and face a prolonged recovery due to the spread of Omicron, the support of all ministries is more important than ever in our rebuild. With your help, we made a strong case for our policy asks.
In our meeting with the Ministry of Finance, we advocated for additional grant-based funding for tourism businesses that have faced barriers in accessing provincial and federal COVID-19 relief due to eligibility criteria restrictions. These include sole proprietors, privately-owned commercial hotel units, and independent travel agents. We continued to advocate for immediate action on high commercial insurance rates. With 7 in 10 tourism businesses facing mounting debt, we again pushed for the Ministry to work with federal counterparts to take action by providing relief on CEBA and RRRF loans.
In our meeting with the Hon. Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, we pushed for strategies to ensure that rural tourism destinations have the workforce required to recover and thrive in Ontario. We pushed for ministerial support for TIAO’s own Tourism Workforce Recovery and Investment Strategy—a multi-pronged, cross-ministerial strategy consisting of a marketing campaign promoting tourism as an employment destination, a tourism-focused immigration pathway, and short-term and long-term strategies to address labour and skills gaps in regional tourism economies.
In our meeting with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, we emphasized the need for targeted financial supports for resource-based tourism businesses and the waiver of 2022 crown resource fees. In our discussions with the Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, the Hon. Kinga Surma, Minister of Infrastructure, and MPP Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario, we underscored the need for timely upgrades in transportation, infrastructure, and affordable housing in rural destinations to support visitor movement and long-term workforce recruitment and retention.
And in our meeting with the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, we brought forward proposals to help bring business events back to Ontario and promote the domestic visitor market. These include developing a fund for hybrid events and making the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit annual.
But that’s not all we did at ROMA! In addition to pushing for progress on existing files, getting our foot in the door on others, and building the basis for future discussions with government, we met with 60 municipal councillors, mayors, and economic development officers from rural and Northern municipalities. During these municipal meetings at TIAO’s booth exhibit, we got a frontline look at the challenges facing rural municipalities and how these might impact the local growth and sustainability of tourism businesses. Similar to previous years, infrastructure, connectivity, and transportation—all critical issues for rural regions—were raised across visits to our booth. But a new issue came up repeatedly and throughout the province: affordable housing and homelessness.
In our booth visits and in every meeting at ROMA, we emphasized the importance of access to COVID-19 testing for workforce capacity. Joining calls by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, TIAC, Air Canada, and Toronto Pearson, we recommended that on-arrival PCR testing be redeployed from airports to local communities. This would free up 8,000 tests per day from Toronto Pearson alone at a time when communities across the province are experiencing scarce COVID-19 testing resources, impacting vulnerable groups, workers, and the staff capacity of local tourism and hospitality operators. With many tourism businesses unable to reopen at full capacity due to staff shortages, access to testing is critical to the ability of businesses to sustain and ramp up workforce capacity while protecting the health and safety of all Canadians. This week, we sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau calling for the redeployment of on-arrival testing at Canadian airports.
Finally, building upon our meetings at ROMA, we also had the opportunity this week to submit consultative feedback for the province’s 2022 Budget. In our pre-budget consultation submission, we gathered our key policy asks presented at ROMA, totalling 22 recommendations, which we believe are necessary to support the immediate and long-term recovery of our industry.
TIAO’s advocacy is off to a blazing start in 2022. Over the next weeks and months, we will build upon our discussions had and connections made at ROMA to advance the recovery and rebuild of our industry. Stay tuned for updates on our progress.
Dr. Jessica Ng, PhD, Director, Policy and Government Affairs, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario