The Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an abrupt and damaging setback for the tourism and hospitality sector. Our latest analysis of market readiness shows regression to states of uncertainty in key markets, reversing a trend through the fall toward greater market readiness and accessibility.

A holiday and winter period that could have been a spark for the sector has instead been another devastating setback. The winter could have been a time of increased domestic travel as Canadians may still not be ready to travel abroad. But the Omicrom wave and associated government restrictions and warnings simply suppressed travel demand broadly and the opportunity for domestic travel in lieu of international destinations did not materialize.

Destination Toronto has been tracking market readiness throughout the pandemic along 5 key factors: Virus Control, Destination Readiness, Access Readiness, Partner Readiness and Customer Readiness, consolidated in the Market Readiness Index. The Index consolidates data points from more than a dozen sources into a single snapshot at the key source markets for Toronto’s Visitor Economy and provides the situational context to help businesses evaluate the opportunities of a return to active engagement with different geographic markets.

Omicron has not surprisingly unwound many of the gains in three key areas of our Market Readiness Index: 

Destination Readiness - after a period of restaurants reopening, arts and culture events and live theatre and music returning, and a resumption of many meetings and business events, new restrictions at the beginning of January stopped much of that activity and caused many businesses to suspend operations entirely, as it is simply not viable to operate on a limited capacity for many. Although a reopening timetable has now been announced, many of the experiences visitors travel here for remain largely unavailable. At the same time we have seen a significant reversal in the willingness of residents to welcome visitors, particularly from outside the country but even for Canadians from other provinces for fear that travel activity will cause the virus to escalate.

Access Readiness - With the surge in cases associated with Omicron came additional restrictions in testing and arrivals, as well as an elevated warning from the U.S. CDC against travel to Canada (despite the obviously much higher levels of virus community spread in the U.S.). 

Customer Readiness - Despite a clear eagerness to return to travel as shown by surveys and behaviours for more than a year, our analysis has consistently shown that consumers’ comfort levels with key travel activities (dining in restaurants, attending events, flying) closely follow government pronouncements and restrictions. So the return to heavy restrictions led to a reduction in customers’ comfort level with these activities, suppressing demand and customers’ readiness to travel and explore Toronto.