‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s tourism industry is facing a crisis greater than the combined impacts of Sept. 11, 2001, the SARS outbreak and the global financial crisis, according to a new report.

The depth of the crisis means it will be a long recovery for the tourist industry with potential shock waves for other areas of the economy, says Destination Canada, a Crown corporation whose mandate is to promote domestic tourism. The agency compiled new data for the report to be released Monday on an industry that is linked to one in 10 Canadian jobs, Destination Canada says.

“Tourism has a ripple effect into so many other parts of our quality of life as Canadians,” said Marsha Walden, president and chief executive officer of Destination Canada. “It’s one of those very few industries, maybe the only one, that can be found in every corner of this country.”

The report adds a new dimension to discussions about the pandemic’s uneven effects across different regions and sectors of the Canadian economy, for which limited data had previously been available. It also sheds light on the amount of time needed for certain key areas of Canada’s economy to recover.

Overall, the number of “active” businesses — one that is operating and has employees — in the sector declined by nine per cent between January and November of last year. Half a million people in the tourism industry lost their jobs in 2020, Walden said.

Within the tourism sector, travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating. Rail, scenic and sightseeing transportation saw the second-biggest drop with a 14.9-per-cent decline.

The hotel industry suffered throughout 2020, with losses concentrated in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, whose downtown hotels had the lowest occupancies of any region in Canada. Revenues for hotels in those three cities fell 79 per cent in the last year for a total loss of $2.3 billion across the three cities, the report says.

To compile the data used in the report, Destination Canada conducted original research and relied on information from government and industry reports, Walden said.

The report doubles as a call to action for Canadians to offset the damage to the country’s tourism industry by taking domestic vacations once the public health situation improves. If enough Canadians shift their international travel plans to focus on domestic destinations, that could speed up recovery for the tourism sector by up to one year, the report states.

Without any major change in consumer spending habits, it would take five years for the industry to reach pre-pandemic levels, the report says. But reallocating two thirds of the dollars spent on international travel in 2019 to domestic travel would replace the estimated $19.4 billion shortfall in the industry in 2020 and sustain more than 150,000 jobs, the report says.

“Canadians have been sitting at home, saving a lot of money this year, which is great for individuals and not so great for the economy,” Walden said. “We really need them to get out there and travel the country and spend money across the country once it’s safe to do so.”

ALSO READ: B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Guidatour, which sells walking tours of downtown Montreal and other areas, is one of the small tourism-dependent businesses whose revenues plummeted last year as its usual customer base of international tourists disappeared. The company’s revenues were down 95 per cent last year, said the company’s owner, Angele Vermette.

Prior to the pandemic, Guidatour employed eight people full-time and had a network of about 100 tour guides that worked on a freelance basis, Vermette said.

Guidatour sometimes arranged more than 100 tours per day, but during the pandemic there were often days when it didn’t give a single one, Vermette said.

“These are passionate people that love their job,” Vermette said. “Being a tour guide, you don’t do that for your retirement, you don’t do that for the pay, you do that because you love history and you love tourism, you love your city.”

Improving economic activity in Canada’s downtown centres, where Guidatour primarily operates, will be key to a recovery for the tourism sector as a whole, Walden said, because visitors to a region typically travel first to a city core before continuing on to other areas.

Vermette said her staff have been working on developing new programming, some of which could also appeal to locals, in order to capitalize on any uptick in travel later this year. With the rollout of the vaccine, Vermette said she was hopeful that Guidatour would have more customers this year, but she noted that sales still won’t be close to what the company saw in 2019.

Similarly, Frontiers North Adventures, a family-owned business that offers tours to Churchill, Man., where visitors can see local attractions like polar bears and beluga whales, has been changing its offerings to appeal to Canadians looking to take domestic vacations this year.

In the past, around 80 per cent of the company’s customer base has been made up of foreign travellers, who begin the tour in Winnipeg before flying to Churchill, said John Gunter, the company’s president. But anticipating another weak year for international travel, the company is adding flights to Churchill directly from Calgary and Montreal in the hopes of tapping into the domestic market for northern adventures.

“We had to rejig our offerings to be more attractive to domestic and local audiences,” Gunter said. “If we have only Winnipeg to rely on, then it’s going to be another year of losses.”

Jon Victor, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusTourismvideo

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The report prepared by Independent Investigations Office of BC said that no offence was committed by the police officer from Lisims/ Nass Valley RCMP detachment while responding to a stabbing incident that led to an in-custody death. (Black Press file photo)
Nass Valley RCMP officer cleared in October 2020 police-involved death

Independent Investigations Office of B.C. concludes no offence committed by police officer

Back Row, Left to Right: Laura Archibald, (teacher), Sarah Engdahl, Victoria Cho, Bronwen Bennett, Briana Simms, Jalynn Gibson, Sydney Harris, Braya Kluss, Valentina Protheroe, Isabella Gibson, Emily Hart, (teacher). Front Row, Left to Right: Collin Maillet, Hannah Hansen, Layla Loutitt, Isabella Kossler, Zadie Kietzmann, Izzie Croot, Deanna McDicken, Hope Misner. Missing: Brianna Onstein, Makenna Harris. (Submitted Photo/Tracey Hart)
Terrace’s Art in Motion Dance earns accolades at Prince George Dance Festival

The group earned a total of 21 trophies during the competition

A temporary fix to erosion problems on Lanfear Hill has been approved. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
City to spend $360,000 on temporary hill fix

Will restore pedestrian and cycle use of Lanfear Hill

Terrace Community Fund was able to set up the Dare to Dream Fund with a significant donation from Trumpeter Donnie Clark. (File photo)
Dare to Dream Fund set up after a large donation from musician Donnie Clark

The fund will provide financial support for the Dare to Dream music program in Terrace and Thornhill

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

Most Read