Canadian tourism sector needs help through ‘very, very dire’ straits: industry heads

The heads of the country’s tourism industry groups are warning their sector has been decimated by the months-long coronavirus lockdown and needs federal help to survive through “very, very dire” straits until next year.

“It is, across the board, a very, very dire situation,” said Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

“Every other sector’s allowed to recover and we’re not,” added Susie Grynol, president and chief executive officer of the Hotel Association of Canada.

Speaking as part of the industry committee’s hearings into the government’s coronavirus pandemic response, the groups stressed that while the sector as a while understands the importance of the physical distancing rules put in place to limit the spread, they urgently need financial help.

Read more: Majority of Canadians polled want U.S. border closed until end of 2020: Ipsos

Tourism association partners have seen their revenues drop by between 61 and 100 per cent as a result of the restrictions, while hotels have seen a drop of between 70 and 90 per cent since March, they said.

Since the first cases were documented in China at the end of last year, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 19.9 million people worldwide and killed 732,467.

In Canada, there have been 119,497 confirmed cases and 8,981 deaths so far.

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Cases have continued to grow rapidly around the world with the World Health Organization warning that although officials there are seeing “green shoots of hope” towards containing the spread, the continued focus must be to “suppress, suppress, suppress.”

Countries around the world responded to the pandemic’s rapid spread by shutting down their borders and implementing varying degrees of societal lockdowns.

In Canada, those have included stay-at-home orders and domestic travel restrictions in many regions.

Destination Canada in July redirected roughly $30 million from its budget normally used for international marketing towards encouraging “staycations” over the next 18 months, including promoting domestic travel through print advertising and social media campaigns.

They also paid four influencers — Peter Mansbridge, Simon Durivage, Rick Mercer and Gregory Charles — to share their takes on the importance of domestic travel in a video series with roughly six million total views so far online.

A spokesperson for the minister of economic development and official languages would not say how much those individuals were paid, citing the “commercial” nature of the contracts.

But the committee heard the seven industry heads make their case that more needs to be done.

COMMENTARY: How COVID-19 will impact future travel

In particular, the organizations said the wage subsidy needs to be extended until next spring or summer, when the industry hopes to be able to begin generating revenue again.

They also want direct financial aid immediately.

“I’m not talking here about loans.,” said Martin Vézina, head of public affairs at the Association Restauration Québec.

“I’m talking about outright aid for us, to allow us to get through this time and deal with the new hygiene measures. It is difficult.”

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Tax credits or grants for domestic travellers were raised as one possibility by several witnesses, who said that even with an extension of the wage subsidy and any federal aid, Canadians will still likely need some form of incentive to begin domestic travel when it is safe to do so.

That’s a move already announced by New Brunswick to encourage travel within the province this year.

The provincial tourism body, Explore NB, announced earlier this summer a $3 million rebate program to cover up to 20 per cent of the expenses incurred by local residents travelling within the province.

Read more: New Brunswick is giving $3 million in rebates to residents who staycation in the province

Carol Alderdice with New Brunswick’s Tourism Industry Association in June billed the move as an “incentive” for some of the costs of hotels, motels, campsites, restaurants and the like.

Grynol said that hotels in particular played a strong role in helping the government respond to the pandemic by accommodating patients moved out of hospitals to make room for COVID-19 patients as well as housing quarantined evacuees and travellers returning to the country.

“We helped flatten the curve,” she said, adding the hotel industry was “hit first, hit hardest and will be the last to recover” from the economic devastation.

She said while the broad support programs rolled out so far made sense in the early response stage, the need now is support that reflects the unique circumstances of different industries, especially those not able to adapt to the curbside pickup and delivery models being adopted by many restaurants and stores.

“Our future is in your hands.”

1:54 Summer staycation: How Saskatchewan is faring for provincial tourism

Summer staycation: How Saskatchewan is faring for provincial tourism

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