September was a brief window of respite into an otherwise devastating year for Toronto tour operator Sash Munjal.
“We started touring from August 29th to October 6th when the Prime Minister announced that we were back in restrictions,” Munjal, who owns ShortTrips.ca, told CBC Toronto.
“The entire tourism sector has pretty much gotten a bloodbath,” he said due to COVID-19.
As for his own business, “We only hold onto our fingernails.”
A new analysis from Destination Toronto’s industry association examines the impact on the city’s tourism industry after a year of ongoing pandemic.
It found that the city has lost more than $ 8 billion in economic activity to visitor spending – a number that climbs to over $ 14 billion in the greater Toronto area.
“The tourism and hospitality industry was hit first and probably hardest, and it looks like it will be the last to recover,” said Andrew Weir, vice president of Destination Toronto.
While there is still a long way to go, Weir says his team is working hard on plans to draw visitors back when they can safely return – and hopes to draw companies back for meetings and events.
Destination Toronto has followed 463 conferences and events that have been canceled or postponed since the pandemic began, representing a loss of $ 833 million.
Conventions and meetings are “fundamental to that.” [tourism] Business in Toronto, and often booked a few years in advance. “
Last year, the pandemic hit the tourism and hospitality sectors.
I am determined to work with @SeeTorontoNow and businesses across the city to attract visitors and ensure all the success we had before COVID-19 continues in these troubled times. pic.twitter.com/TGIIXuQhXa
– –@ JohnTory
Attracting visitors could start with you
One of the first steps in Destination Toronto’s recovery strategy: residents and their social media feeds should help make the city a welcoming place for tourists again.
“The more we go out and get involved in the city … eat on the decks, go to some outdoor events when they start again … that will be the catalyst,” Weir said.
“When people see the photos we’re sharing, people out of town see Toronto coming back.”
The Destination Toronto analysis found that attractions and entertainment lost $ 707 million due to the pandemic. (Sam Nar / CBC)
Weir is planning a multi-stage comeback, with Ontarians, then Canadians, and then international travelers gradually coming back to visit.
Jim Byers, editor-in-chief at canadiantravelnews.ca and author of a book on travel destinations in Ontario, says promoting safety should be another important part of the city’s visitor base.
“I think most cities that can do that will try to talk about their open spaces,” he said. “Toronto is blessed with a lot of wonderful nature.”
What can we learn from SARS?
Destination Toronto can also look back on 2003 when a group of tourism organizations, attractions, and various levels of government worked together to enhance the city’s image during the SARS outbreak.
Using the name Toront03, they raised money and then spent it on promoting the city in the northern United States.
The goal was to show that the city was “open, vibrant and healthy,” said Kevin Shea, who served as the group’s president.
Shea says they also worked on attractions bringing the Conan O’Brien show to town, creating theater and hotel packages, and promoting a free Rolling Stones concert.
Both Shea and Weir of Destination Toronto believe that pent-up demand for personal experiences will lead to high spending in Toronto when the green light is finally given.
“There are a lot of Canadians who have more money in the bank now because there is nowhere to spend it. I think it’s going to be the 20s again,” Shea said.
Full recovery can take 5 years
Despite this optimism, industry projections suggest it could be years before Canada returns to its pre-pandemic tourism spending.
According to Destination Canada, it will be until 2026 for the country to be active again if the borders remain closed until October 2021.
Industry associations continue to call for government support to help guide companies through troubled times.
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has one Five Point Recovery Plan 2021and called on the federal government to extend Canada’s emergency wage subsidy and set up a recovery fund, among other things.
“The big concern is to make sure the companies are still there,” said Weir.