Guest contributor Chris Bloore, the President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), shares key policy and political trends impacting the future of the tourism industry
Since March 2020 and the declaration of a state of emergency in Ontario, it’s been an unprecedented time to work in advocacy in the tourism industry. Almost three years later, as we emerge from the pandemic, the conversations on capacity restrictions, lockdowns and border closures start to fade away and the tourism industry now faces new challenges that are equally as critical. Recently, I joined Destination Toronto at its Business Outlook Forum to discuss the five key policy issues that I was looking out for in 2023. You can watch my speech by clicking here, but here’s a brief summary of the issues I spoke about.
Is there a plan? Yes, there is!
One of the most common questions I get from operators is, “what’s next – is there a plan?” After close interaction with the government on border closures, capacity and operational restrictions, the labour crisis and support packages, we’ve demonstrated the economic case for the tourism industry. Now with restrictions lifted, we’re expertly placed to support tourism in fulfilling its potential and the good news is, there’s a plan and it’s coming soon.
Throughout the summer, Federal Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, Randy Boissonnault, travelled the country meeting with tourism stakeholders to draft a new tourism growth strategy. The new strategy set for release in Q1 of 2023, will plot a course for growth, investment and stability. In Ontario, the new provincial Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Neil Lumsden, has also been very active in engaging tourism stakeholders since taking up his position after the election in June, including attending a series of roundtables hosted by TIAO and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on the future of the tourism industry. I would expect an updated provincial growth strategy or plan to follow in 2023. Both will be critical in plotting the path forward for the tourism industry in Ontario.
Labour Crisis – how do we attract more people to work in the tourism industry?
Even at the height of restrictions on capacity and operations and with the border still closed, the number one issue raised by TIAO members was labour (or lack of). Pre-pandemic, labour was a significant issue in the tourism industry but was made exponentially worse by the pandemic, as tens of thousands of people either lost or left their jobs for sectors that remained open. Whilst numbers have since stabilized the ‘help wanted’ signs and stories of businesses being unable to fully open continue to grow.
A series of immigration reforms have already been announced that will help support the tourism industry. The relaxation of the twenty-hour work limit for international students, the extension of the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, extending work permits to family members of temporary foreign workers and Ontario's insistence on having a greater say in the type of immigrants that enter the province via the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) are all welcome announcements. Yet, many of these moves are temporary and Canada's tourism industry still requires an expedited pathway through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW).
Finally, I’m keeping a close eye on the legislation coming out of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development in Ontario. The Working for Workers Act heralded a series of announcements and policies, including a consultation on portable benefits that would follow the worker even if they changed jobs. These discussions, and those on the introduction of sick pay made even more pertinent by the pandemic, are conversations that I will be following closely as the tourism industry seeks to compete with other sectors to secure a sustainable workforce.
Cost of living – ensuring Ontarians aren’t priced out of travel
Throughout the pandemic, we knew how desperate Ontarians were to get out and travel, so much so that the term ‘revenge spending’ was coined. However, with rising inflation, interest rate hikes and rising fuel prices, the cost of living is having a significant impact on consumer decision making and impacting the recovery of our businesses. Moreover, we’re seeing data that shows it’s already having a direct impact on the decision making of travellers, leading many to cancel or shorten their stays. At the same time, businesses are encountering a broken supply chain, increased costs for labour and insurance and are carrying increased debt loads that are impacting their competitiveness and ability to grow. It is imperative that we ensure that travel remains within reach of all Canadians and not simply a luxury for the well-off. Both federal and provincial governments will need to put forward plans to make living and conducting business affordable again, otherwise, the implications for the tourism industry could be as harmful as the pandemic.
Incentivization of travel and regulatory changes
Whether it was liberalizing rules on patios, allowing alcohol to be served and delivered, payroll tax cuts or tax freezes, it became clear during the pandemic that there a series of regulations, red tape and taxes that served little purpose, other than to restrict the growth of the tourism industry and stop the creation of well-paying jobs. At the end of November, Ontario's Minister of Red Tape Reduction, the Hon. Parm Gill, recently introduced his 2022 Red Tape Reduction Package. Within that package are common-sense measures to support the tourism industry. As we move forward into recovery, it’s imperative we continue to remove unnecessary barriers to growth.
During the pandemic the Ontario government dipped its toes in the water of incentivizing leisure travel through the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit and there is an ongoing debate about whether it will be renewed as part of a greater investment in the tourism industry. But we don’t just need to incentivize domestic travel, we need to actively and aggressively support the return of business travel and we will need government support to do this.
Whether at a provincial or federal level, we need to attract investments in tourism in the same way as we do with media, tech or manufacturing. Specific plans to attract private investment, renewing the staycation credit in the short term, and a new federal meeting, conferences and events incentives fund to help DMOs bolster their marketing activities related to international business events could become critical components of a recovery strategy.
Making tourism a priority for government
For decades, advocates of the tourism industry have worked to demonstrate to government how integral the tourism industry is to our national economy: A world-wide pandemic demonstrated the dire consequences for the economy when the visitor economy collapses. The response required a whole government approach to secure the future of the tourism industry and the same approach is needed to maintain its role as a key economic driver for Canada’s and Ontario’s economy.
We need tourism to be at the heart of the government’s economic agenda and bring together the multiple ministries that tourism touches. Too often the policy or regulatory support we’ve needed to grow has been lost in the complexity of government across different ministries in Parliament. Federal Minister Randy Boissonnault is reported to be seeking to create and chair a sub-cabinet committee that could ensure key components of the tourism growth strategy are effectively and efficiently delivered. This could be a game changing moment for the prospects of the tourism industry and one I’m very hopeful he is successful in achieving.
Now, if you’re thinking that’s an awful lot of government information to keep a look out for, have no fear. Sign up to the TIAO newsletter here or subscribe to the Destination Toronto newsletter here, to have all the latest information and government announcements delivered straight to your inbox.