The last seventeen months have taken a toll on Ontarians and the three waves of COVID-19, paired with the multiple provincial lockdowns, have seriously impacted tourism businesses’ survival and future success. The ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Ontario’s tourism industry have been wide-ranging and significant—including the many businesses that encompass Toronto’s visitor economy.
The province is reopening and while many businesses are finally able to operate, many tourism businesses are encountering challenges to reopening, rebuilding, and long-term recovery just as government supports begin to wind down. The ongoing lockdowns forced many tourism workers to find work elsewhere, ultimately worsening the pre-existing labour shortage that existed before the pandemic.
Tourism businesses need workers; many businesses are eager to fully reopen, but are restricted due to limited staff. For example, many restaurants are unable to open entire sections of their dining areas because they do not have enough servers available. Tourism businesses’ inability to reopen to their full capacity because of labour shortages is being projected to cost the economy billions of dollars in lost revenue (Tourism HR Canada).
In order for tourism businesses to be successful, they need workers. That will require an extensive campaign to attract former workers back into the sector, we will need to attract new entrants to the industry and revisit immigration regulations to recognize the necessity for Canada to welcome international students and new Canadians into the tourism and hospitality sector.
Another important element of recovery for the tourism industry is extending current economic support programs such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). Our recovery to pre-pandemic levels will take several years and we need government to support the industry throughout this embryonic recovery period and guard against a disjointed, uneven or underwhelming recovery.
We also need to address the increasing levels of business’ debt. Given the disproportionate economic impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry’s recovery, businesses are struggling to repay loans that they took on during the numerous provincial lockdowns. As reopening in Ontario is still limited and the border continues to be closed, many businesses are having difficulties reaching financial solvency. The industry needs increased loan forgiveness and extended interest-free grace periods. Many tourism businesses heavily relied on the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and the Regional Recovery and Relief Fund (RRF) to avoid bankruptcy. In order for businesses to recover and succeed long-term, there needs to be increased loan forgiveness and extended interest-free grace periods for these loan programs.
These are just a few of the steps necessary to give the tourism industry a chance at rebuilding and recovering. Investing in the future workforce capacity of the industry and supporting the financial sustainability of tourism businesses will aid in the industry’s immediate and long-term success. Ontario may be over the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the impacts of COVID-19 on tourism businesses will be long-lasting.
To find out more about TIAO and the work the association does on behalf of 200,000 businesses and 400,000 employees in the tourism and hospitality industry, visit TIAOntario.ca.