Small communities among the worst hit as Canada's tourism industry stalls
TORONTO -- For nearly seven decades, May has brought blooming tulips and hundreds of thousands of tourists to Canada's capital city.
But this year, travel restrictions have kept them away from Ottawa, leaving the flowers only for the locals to admire, provided they practice physical distancing while in the gardens.
“I’m glad to see everyone spaced out and [being] careful, but obviously its odd for us,” Jo Riding, general manager of the Canadian Tulip Festival, told CTV News. “We [usually] have concerts we put on every day in the park, so now we have daily releases online.”
All other activities and events have moved online, including a virtual walking tour of the gardens. But without tourists from other provinces flocking to see the tulips, roughly half of Ottawa’s hotels are empty or closed.
And Ottawa is far from the only city or town impacted.
More than 22 million people visited Canada last year, bringing a boost of more than $100 billion to the Canadian economy. But border closures and travel restrictions have many businesses and even municipalities fearing for the worst.
One report by Destination Canada from mid-April estimates that in a worst case scenario where the virus is not contained, travel spending across Canada could decline by nearly 60 per cent.
That amounts to a $62 billion loss and 450,000 jobs gone.
Even in the report’s best case scenario, a 35 per cent drop in travel spending would amount to a $36 billion loss and 263,000 jobs supported by tourism gone.
Jenn Weatherhead, a travel expert, told CTV News that the industry “had been hit incredibly hard.
“It will take a while for it to recover,” she said. “A lot of that will depend on travellers feeling safe and secure, so the industry has a lot of work ahead of it.”
Even with support like the wage subsidy and new government backed business loans, there is growing uncertainty about the sector’s future.
With revenue at an all time low, owners of the The Sou'Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, are worried.
“We are just trying to think of any revenue stream that could help get us through this, including online sales,” owner John Campbell told CTV News.
The pain is amplified in smaller municipalities.
The Havelock Country Jamboree, a live country music festival, puts Havelock, Ontario, on the map.
Every summer, the outdoor concerts draw up to 100,000 people to the community of around 4,500.
But not this year. On May 12, the jamboree was officially postponed until 2021.
“It’s hitting the big areas, but something like this is real hard on small communities because it’s a short season,” Jim Martin, mayor of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, told CTV News.
Trying to stay afloat in the tourism industry during a pandemic is a no-win situation: if events reopen too early in order to boost the economy, it could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Although provinces and territories have been taking their first steps towards a gradual re-opening, health officials are still stressing the dangers of growing complacent.
The pandemic is far from over in Canada. Over the past few days, new cases of COVID-19 have been climbing again in Ontario and Quebec, two of the provinces hit hardest by the virus.
And while the extension of the U.S. border closure represents a huge loss of tourism dollars for Canada, it also is a necessary defence. With over 1.65 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., American travellers are a threat that could bring new outbreaks to Canada if the border is re-opened prematurely.
In Ontario, a new program has been launched to help those in the tourism and hospitality industries. Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton announced Friday that they would be opening up a virtual action centre to support laid-off and unemployed workers by offering mental health services and new training modules to help workers adapt to the new normal as reopening continues.