Events industry happy for Step 3 reopening, but still faces challenges
Hard to find workers, confusion over what's allowed
Local businesses in the events industry say they're happy that Ontario will soon move to Step 3 of its pandemic reopening plan, but it's not a completely smooth transition.
The province announced Friday it would move to Step 3 on July 16, five days earlier than planned.
The new guidelines allow for larger religious services and other ceremonies like weddings and funerals, with physical distancing measures in place.
Indoor social gatherings and events can be held indoors with up to 25 people in attendance, while outdoor social gatherings and events can host up to 100 people, with some exceptions.
Meeting and event spaces can open at half capacity or allow for 1,000 people indoors, whichever is less, amid other restrictions. Outdoors, that increases to 75 per cent capacity or 5,000 people.
"We've been waiting a long time for this, and so have my brides and grooms as well," said Tony Zacconi owner of Sala San Marco Event Centre.
"People have been rebooking dates two, three times and stuff. So it's really, really encouraging,"
Zacconi was able to pivot and run a restaurant for most of the pandemic, but he still had to lay off staff. He estimates his business has lost half a million dollars at minimum, and also says he feels bad for clients and guests.
"They're coming to [me] saying, 'Hey, Tony, what's going to happen? Are we going to be able to do this?' And I don't have an answer for them," said Zacconi.
Changing rules confusing
While the phones are now ringing off the hook with people trying to book events, Zacconi said it's been hard to find staff as his past employees have moved on to other jobs.
At Bean Town Receptions in Plantagenet, Ont., owner Genevieve Desjardins said there's immense pressure to interpret all the new rules both correctly and quickly.
Desjardins said she's called up different authorities, including the local health unit and her community's bylaw department, and keeps getting different answers.
"We just want to be safe. We don't want to be the industry that creates another outbreak," said Desjardins.
When it comes to rebuilding the local tourism industry, entering Step 3 is good news but "only part of the story," said Catherine Callary, vice-president of destination development with Ottawa Tourism.
"It doesn't mean that we're there yet in terms of the recovery of tourism in Ottawa," said Callary.
Callary said that Ottawa is quite heavily dependent, particularly in the fall, on business travel for conferences and large-scale cultural and sporting events, which will take longer to recover.
Having Ottawa's rules in line with those across the river in Gatineau, Que., however, does provide visitors with more clarity on what they can and can't do, she added.
with files from Travis Dhanraj, All in a Day, and Radio-Canada.