Major Toronto-area attractions – all members of the Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable – were out in force yesterday (June 29) to call on the federal government to release a comprehensive reopening plan for the industry or risk putting the summer travel season in jeopardy for the second consecutive year.
In fact, the group made it pretty clear that without immediate action, many Toronto attractions are in danger of permanent closure.
Analysis by Destination Toronto revealed that the City of Toronto lost out on more than $8 billion in economy activity through visitor spending – growing to $14 billion for the Greater Toronto Area.
In the past year alone, Toronto experienced 463 cancelled events and more than 380,000 attendees lost. Every sector of the Toronto region economy has been impacted by these restrictions, but none harder than the tourism and hospitality sectors.
John Karastamatis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Mirvish Productions, observed that: “Mirvish has remained dark since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the provincial government has started to provide guidance on our re-opening plan, we are a long way away from our return to normal.”
Karastamatis added that: “Toronto’s theatre scene is world-class and attracts visitors from around the globe. International theatregoers are critical to the health of our business.”
Peter Doyle, General Manager of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, agreed, noting that: “The Ripley’s Aquarium has been shuttered since November 2020, and has had no revenue coming in. We are now well into the summer season, our busiest time of the year, and have no direction as to when we will be able to re-open.”
And Doyle emphasized the fact that: “Toronto is one of the most vaccinated places in the world, yet the government has failed to tell Torontonians and Toronto businesses what they can look forward to as the vaccination effort continues. We have all been left in the dark. As a result, our business is struggling.”
With the busy Canada Day weekend set to begin tomorrow (July 1), the group points out that Canadian families are still unable to make concrete summer travel plans; arguing that Canadian travellers, the most vaccinated people anywhere in the world, are being left out of the travel equation.
Said Karastamatis: “We are truly an international business, relying on cast, crew, and productions far beyond our borders. To get back to normal, we need the federal government to immediately put in place a plan to re-open travel to foreign nationals. Mirvish is a Toronto staple – and it’s time to raise the curtain again.”
Ripley’s Doyle agreed, stating: “We need to be given permission to re-open immediately and open to welcome our doors to international visitors. By prohibiting fully vaccinated travellers from entering Canada the government is significantly disadvantaging Canadian businesses that, after 16 months of a pandemic, need a successful summer season to survive.”
The group also pointed out that fully vaccinated foreign travellers are still unable to visit Canada, and this is leaving a devastating impact on local business. Right now, in Ontario, it is easier to travel to Brussels than it is to drive to Buffalo.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario’s (TIAO) president & CEO, Christopher Bloore said that: “American tourists that are fully vaccinated are currently making decisions on where they will spend their vacations and where they will spend their dollars. Canadians are sitting at home waiting for the call from their employer waiting to hear if they have a job this summer.”
Said Bloore: “It’s time the Federal Government released its pan to reopen the border, so that our industry can plan to reopen, rehire Ontarians and start to rebuild our industry.”
Lindsay Broadhead, SVP, Communications and Public Affairs of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, pointed out that: “The tourism and travel sector plays a vital role in the Toronto region economy and we are now on the brink of seeing two summer travel seasons be upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Broadhead continued: “Businesses like Ripley’s Aquarium and Mirvish productions provide critical cultural and economic value to Toronto’s economy. Across both our tourism and business visitor economies, we need to have a plan in place to open – our business community has done all it can to ensure facilities are safe for visitors; it’s time our cities’ attractions are given the green light to re-open, they are more than ready.”
Vito Curalli, Executive Director of International Sales and Industry Relations at Hilton Hotels, warned that: “Canada cannot afford to be left behind as other countries around the world begin to reopen.”
Curalli continued: “Without corrective measures, Toronto’s vibrant tourism industry is at risk of witnessing another critical summer travel season lost to the pandemic. This puts people’s livelihoods are in jeopardy.”
And while the federal government’s recent announcements go some way to answering some of these questions, more policy changes are needed to support the travel and tourism sector recovery.
The group noted that despite receiving advice from the federally appointed COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel (the Expert Panel), the federal government has yet to publish a comprehensive reopening plan for international and domestic travel, particularly around fully vaccinated foreign nationals visiting Canada.
And it emphasized that Canadians are doing their part in getting vaccinated; now it is time for the federal government to provide clear, timely, and safe guidance on re-opening Canada for travel.
In this respect, Hilton Hotels’ Curalli makes it clear that: “Fully vaccinated travellers should be afforded the same opportunities as fully vaccinated Canadians, regardless of their nationalities – and that includes being able to travel to Canada.”