The COVID-19 crisis continues to have a severe and enduring impact on the tourism industry in Ontario. Border closures, capacity restrictions and lockdowns exacerbated structural issues that have left the industry far from recovery. In need of a path forward, the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) worked closely with the sector over the last year to inform and develop: The State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report. The report offers a blueprint for recovery through practical recommendations to confront both immediate and long-term challenges.
“Ontario should be the most attractive place to visit, work and invest in tourism,” said Christopher Bloore, President and CEO, TIAO. “Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry was a $36 billion-dollar industry in this province. As a vital sector of the economy, we need a cross-ministerial strategy to ensure tourism returns to and exceeds pre-pandemic economic activity.”
The report draws on input from tourism industry operators, experts, associations, chambers of commerce and boards of trade, and education leaders across the province.
“Ontario can and should be at the top of every tourist’s bucket list. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is proud to partner with the Tourism Association of Ontario and our members to ensure our province continues to be a competitive tourism destination within Canada and globally,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, OCC. “With a recession looming, it’s more important than ever that government and businesses work together to bolster this important sector by addressing labour shortages, regulatory burdens, infrastructure deficits, and regional disparities.”
Recognizing there are both public and private initiatives underway, major takeaways from the report include:
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.
There are under-explored markets with potential to attract more international visitors to Ontario, such as intercultural exchanges with Indigenous and Francophone tourism sectors, as well as cannabis tourism.
Gaps in public transportation need to be addressed within and between Ontario destinations. These gaps limit mobility, opportunities for multi-destination travel, and the recruitment and retention of workers.
Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is critical to participating in an increasingly digital economy. Some areas of Ontario remain underserviced, placing rural and Indigenous tourism economies at a disadvantage.
A provincial tourism 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.
“Our sincere thanks to the Government of Ontario for their continued support for the tourism industry and engagement in our roundtables to receive feedback on the obstacles facing the industry,” add Rossi and Bloore.
The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Neil Lumsden, and Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton participated in roundtables hosted by TIAO and OCC.