Ontario tourism industry needs urgent support to survive COVID-19, survey finds

Ontario businesses in the hard-hit tourism and hospitality sector are demanding urgent government support to cope with “massive” revenue losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new survey from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) calls the situation “dire” and says it’s only getting worse for businesses that rely on restricted activities like travel, large gatherings and indoor dining.

“The tourism industry in Ontario is still in a massive hole. Government supports were critical to surviving wave one. They are now equally and urgently important if businesses are to survive into the new year,” said Beth Potter, president and CEO of TIAO.

A recent survey by the association found that the overwhelming majority of business owners in the sector are experiencing average revenue losses of 70 per cent compared to 2019.

Two thirds of business owners surveyed told TIAO that had it not been for government support, such as the wage subsidy and rent relief program, they would have shut down already.

That’s the situation facing Deidre Morris, owner of Ashanti Coffee in Collingwood, Ont. She says early on in the pandemic her revenue was way down and the business is still only able survive with the government paying for a portion of her employees’ wages and her rent.

“We saw very few customers,” Morris told CBC Toronto. “Our revenue was down by 75 per cent or more.”

Deidre Morris says without financial assistance from governments she would have had to shut down. (Deirde Morris)

While she says business did improve when indoor dining resumed during the summer tourist season, Morris is worried about the impact the recent increase in new daily COVID-19 cases will have.

While there are no new restrictions yet on restaurant and cafes for the Collingwood area, Morris depends on tourists from the GTA and is counting on a busy ski season.

“If the ski hills don’t open, we’ll be in very big trouble,” Morris said.

TIAO says Ontario’s tourism and hospitality sector is a catalyst for economic growth in the province and is worth more than $ 36 billion. The organization also says the sector is the largest employer of youth in the province, with 23 per cent of its workforce aged 15 to 24.

But according to the TIAO survey, the average number of staff employed by businesses in the sector has been slashed by half during the pandemic. Nine per cent of business owners surveyed have laid off their entire staff.

Potter says business owners are spending millions on personal protective equipment and renovations to meet health and safety guidelines. She’d like to see more government grants and tax credits to subsidize the investments.

The current rent relief program relies on the participation of landlords. Potter says that needs to change

“Putting the money in the hands of businesses owners to pay their rent would certainly be helpful,” she said.

Deidre Morris says current government assistance needs to continue and increased to make sure she can stay in business. She adds that government loans aren’t helpful, as she’s already racked up debt during the pandemic.

Deidre Morris is worried about the impact the recent increase in new daily COVID-19 cases will have on her business. (Deidre Morris)

“Right now we still can’t recover from the past three months,” she said.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Ontario’s Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture says it has “established sector advisory councils to get feedback on ideas to help our industries emerge from the COVID-19 outbreak.” The ministry adds that “TIAO participated in and provided input” to these councils.

“During this unprecedented time, our partnership with TIAO will be important to develop innovative solutions to ensure that our tourism industry is positioned for success in the future,” the email reads.

“The Ministry continues to make strategic investments in the tourism sector through the Tourism Economic Development and Recovery Fund.”

CBC | Toronto News

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