Restrictive pandemic protocols and provincial shutdowns have decimated Uxbridge’s lucrative tourism industry. In a good year, tourism will generate US $ 8 million for Uxbridge, according to the Uxbridge Township Community Tourism Plan (2020).
But those revenues were stopped with the pandemic.
“[The tourism industry] was completely negatively impacted, ”said Chuck Thibeault, executive director of industry development for Central Counties Tourism. “The tourism companies were the first to close, the first to close, and many of them weren’t allowed to open yet.”
He adds, “I think the long-term effects will be felt long after the restrictions are lifted.”
The pandemic affected tourism differently than other economic stressors.
During a recession, Thibeault observed, local tourist attractions generally benefit from local residents spending their tourism budgets on-site rather than using more expensive vacation destinations.
“So, the movie theaters and miniature golf courses and those local attractions like museums all get a boost in these bad times,” says Thibeault.
“It’s very different,” he emphasizes. “This is the first time the exact same companies that thrive in other bad times have been absolutely decimated.”
Some larger chains with significant overheads such as real estate and rent but no income are closing their doors.
Laser Quest was founded in Mississauga in 1993 and had more than 100 locations worldwide, including 36 in North America – closed due to the pandemic. Chuck E Cheese, the Texas-based children’s restaurant chain, has filed for bankruptcy and closed locations across North America.
“It’s scary what it is,” says Thibeault.
However, local businesses have proven their resilience to him. “The amount of money that went into companies this year really surprised me. I thought people would turtle, ”says Thibeault.
“I was blown away last year by the amount of companies that went out of their way to stay relevant to their customer base,” he adds.
Companies have changed the way they interact with customers by building new entrances, installing contactless payment methods and plexiglass, expanding patios, stocking personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, installing new signage and training employees in the new security protocols.
“This is their passion, their life, and they want to be successful,” says Thibeault. “So that gives hope for the future for those who survive.”
The costly investments are challenging, says Lisa John-Mackenzie, tourism development coordinator at Uxbridge.
“Some companies have described it as doing double the job for half the sales,” she says. “It’s a lot of extra work to get all of this in place.”
The investments have proven successful for some companies, she adds. The York Durham Heritage Railway now has an online shop and sells goods in stores in Pickering, Oshawa and Newmarket.
Blue Heron Books is now hosting virtual authoring events. The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario and the Uxbridge Studio Tour have customized private tours in accordance with COVID safe protocols.
John-Mackenzie believes that consumer confidence in the tourism industry will slowly and gradually return.
However, tourism is a one-way street. One has to be comfortable to visit elsewhere, and also to receive visitors. With orders that stay fresh at home in the public consciousness, visitors have the stigma of coming from a “COVID hotspot” or possibly being contagious.
Greeting visitors plays a fundamental role in building trust in the tourism industry. John-Mackenzie believes trust will develop by first exploring local areas and outdoor activities before exploring neighboring communities or further downtown or Ontario.
Your tourism strategies are aimed at this Build trust and eventually return to normal where Uxbridge receives up to 200,000 visitors (Visitors are considered to be anyone who has covered more than 40 km) each year.
“That’s a relatively conservative number,” she adds. “I don’t include the sporting aspect, like the golf courses, which contribute technically.”
The Community Tourism Plan said 4.1 million people visited the Durham area in 2016 and had sales of $ 301 million.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY
With the pandemic now spanning its sophomore year, the Uxbridge Time-Journal has taken a look at how the tourism industry is doing.