'Pent-up demand' for travel expected to help tourism in northern Ontario once stay-at-home order lifted
'We're all in a wait-and-see holding pattern,' expert says
Once the tourism season gets rolling, it should be busy for operators across northern Ontario, industry experts say.
But that won't happen until the stay-at-home order in Ontario and other travel restrictions are lifted, and the Canada-US border allows for non-essential travel, they say.
"What we're seeing from some of the research that we've done, there's a lot of pent-up demand for tourism within the province, and so it looks like people are willing to travel further, stay longer this summer," said David MacLachlan, executive director of Destination Northern Ontario, which works with and supports tourism operators.
"Hopefully once things get going, [tourism operators] can prove their resiliency," he said.
"Everyone has really been subject to the forces of change and being adaptable."
Northern operators have reported they've either had to shut down or adapt operations over the past year.
"The uncertainty is really a huge challenge," said Meredith Armstrong, manager of tourism and culture for the City of Greater Sudbury.
"We're all in a wait and see holding pattern.
"Many people talk about visiting family, relatives first, so I think that some of the first trends we'll see will be family get togethers in different regions."
Armstrong is hopeful Sudbury's outdoor and family-friendly appeal will bring visitors to the city, once the tourism season gets going.
"I think people will want to do it very safely and slowly return to travel, so they'll still look for activities that can be done with physical distancing, low numbers with their own immediate family, that kind of thing," she said.
"We will bounce back. I just think...let's have a good understanding of what we're facing. I feel like we're really pulling together these days to get everybody back on their feet."
Canada-US border woes
"For everyone, it's so difficult because, there is no certainty, nobody can say right now on this date, be ready. And so we're kind of going almost day by day," said MacLachlan.
He hopes the Canada U-S border can reopen soon since resource-based tourism, such as fishing and hunting lodges, depend on American visitors.
"The U.S. represents a significant amount of visitation to northern Ontario," he said.
"Until that border opens...operators are really in survival mode, and we just need to do what we can to adjust our operations to be more attractive to those domestic visitors to get us to the point where the border is open."
How operators survived
Tourism operators and businesses have been able to access a number of different funding programs from the provincial and federal governments.
"There's not been one magic-bullet solution," said MacLachlan.
"Operators have to be kind of savvy, and looking to multiple funding sources to get them through this."
Armstrong said business owners in Greater Sudbury who couldn't adapt a certain part of their operations to COVID-19 measures and regulations found other ways to stay afloat.
"We see that entrepreneurs have a fire in the belly," she said.
There are a whole bunch of entrepreneurs who are having serious challenges with an existing business, but seeking resources, seeking support in the form of funding or starting to build a business plan for the future. - Meredith Armstrong, tourism and culture manager for Sudbury, Ont.
The city saw double digit increases in calls to the Regional Business Centre, said Armstrong.
"We know there are a whole bunch of entrepreneurs who are having serious challenges with an existing business, but seeking resources, seeking support in the form of funding or starting to build a business plan for the future.
"I think that really speaks to the resiliency of our entrepreneur and business community within the tourism and culture team at the city."
Guest room revenue lost
According to statistics compiled by the Hotel and Accommodation Association of Sudbury (HAAS), between April 2020 and February 2021, there was a $25-million loss in guest room revenue.
There is an inventory of about 1,900 rooms in the Sudbury market, including hotels, motels and other accommodations.
"These are really important businesses to our economy and to our community, so I'm really pleased that we can have that ongoing dialogue with these stakeholders and look for opportunities to support them," said Armstrong.
The City of Greater Sudbury's Tourism Development Fund supports product development and new experience development for potential businesses and organizations, said Armstrong.
"When you do hear numbers like [guest room revenue lost], you can understand why these kinds of programs, these kinds of support and resources are so important to keep us going over the long term," she said.
Urban tourism like concerts, sporting events festivals and conventions may take longer to recover, since large mass gatherings aren't likely to be permitted for some time.