Tourism has been one of the hardest hit sectors in Ontario and continues to struggle to rebuild and recover.
It has been impacted by border closures, capacity restrictions, and lockdowns.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) have worked together on the State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report, which explores a blueprint for growth and recovery of the tourism industry with practical recommendations for immediate and long-term challenges.
Core issues found in the report include labour shortages, regulatory burdens, infrastructure deficits and regional disparities.
While just about every sector is impacted by workforce challenges, few have more issues than tourism. It had to lay off and reduce hours for a significant amount of its workforce. When the borders reopened and capacity limits lifted, that workforce had moved on and taken with it years of experience and expertise. The knowledge gap left behind means that businesses aren’t just looking for whomever is interested in working for them, but they need skilled workers to handle operations and train newer staff.
Adding further challenges is the rural aspect of many tourism operations, especially through the Kawarthas. Access to local labour has dwindled as populations age. Those interested in moving to cottage country are going to struggle to find a home they can afford or even anything to rent. Businesses hoping to attract workers from the city are struggling to find people willing and able to commute since car access is typically the only option.
Lack of adequate high-speed internet is also a significant challenge. It’s more than a convenience for guests — stable and fast internet has become a critical part of business operations. As businesses try to make do with less, they’re turning to technology that can help with overall efficiency including customer relationship management systems, bookkeeping, marketing, scheduling, booking, etc.
Indigenous tourism economies across Ontario have been especially at a disadvantage due to many of these rural challenges.
Even the weather and climate change have impacted tourism in the region with several significant weather events. Some tourism sites are still cleaning up damage from the spring and likely will continue to do so for some time.
The TIAO and OCC report came back with some key recommendations:
• Workforce development initiatives should focus on communicating the business case for careers in the tourism industry, reforming immigration to retain and attract international talent, and optimizing work placement opportunities for post-secondary students.
• Eliminating barriers to growth should involve revisiting taxes for the industry. For example, elimination/deferral of the annual basic beer tax increase, federal excise taxes and revisiting Municipal Accommodation Taxes.
• Emerging markets should be explored, including intercultural exchanges with Indigenous and Francophone tourism sectors, as well as cannabis tourism and agritourism.
• Gaps in public transportation need to be addressed within and between Ontario destinations.
• Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is critical to participating in an increasingly digital economy.
• A provincial strategy should place special emphasis on alleviating regional and sector disparities. Northern Ontario, as well as border cities and the business, events and conference sector, lag significantly behind pre-pandemic levels.
Prior to the pandemic, tourism in Ontario was a $36 billion industry with 200,000 tourism businesses paying more than $5 billion in taxes and directly employing 400,000 people.
It’s going to take a coordinated approach to build back bigger and better. We need all levels of government and their various ministries to communicate and coordinate the recovery of the tourism sector to help our local economy and communities thrive.
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