Navigating the uncertainty of a global pandemic has been challenging for Canadian travellers and tourism operators alike — a stark contrast from what was a record-breaking 2019 for tourism in Canada.
Coming off a successful — if somewhat unusual — Tourism Week in Canada, federal Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly spoke with Canadian Geographic Travel about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Canada’s $102-billion tourism industry and what the future might look like for travel within the country.
On the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s tourism industry
I think that we were among the first to see it coming. We were the canary in the coal mine, because very quickly we saw a drop in Chinese tourism in the months of January and February. As the pandemic grew and spread across the world, we were deeply affected. I’ve been traveling the country virtually to really understand what’s going on in the tourism sector — to see how things are evolving for tourism operators and people that are employed in the industry. This pandemic and economic crisis are hitting hard.
On what the government is doing to help
When talking to people in the tourism sector, they were very preoccupied in the beginning that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit [the $2,000-per-month benefit for people who have lost their jobs, or self-employed people who have lost their contracts] was not necessarily available to people in the seasonal sectors, including tourism. So that was changed: now people have access. The other thing is the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy [for employers], which was at 10 per cent at the beginning, is now at 75 per cent of wages – up to $58,700 of salary per employee. And that’s up until the end of August. So we’ve been able to put a tourism lens on what we’re doing, and really adapt these measures to make sure that the sector has the support it needs.
We decided to do even more for tourism specifically because it is a sector that was more impacted, so what we did was announce a billion-dollar regional relief program. On May 31 I announced $40 million for 66 destination marketing organizations in Ontario and western Canada. Basically, we’re covering their operating costs and we’re helping them to develop tools to do much more marketing locally. And today we announced $30 million for Destination Canada. Typically they market Canada internationally; now they will be, for the first time ever, really marketing to Canadians.
On what the near future might look like for Canada’s tourism industry
There’s this movement in Canada of “shop local.” We are starting the movement of “visit local.” Discover your backyard. I don’t think at the beginning of the pandemic that we thought that would mean discovering your backyard literally! But there are lots of hidden gems in our beautiful region.
On the future of travel in Canada
That all depends on advice from our public health authority, how much we’re able to test and contact trace, and how soon we find a vaccine for the virus. It’s extremely important to follow the science and follow the advice from our public health officials.
On the opportunity to promote Canadian tourism to Canadians
I think people knew before the pandemic that we needed a shift. We presented a very important tourism strategy in 2019, which was all about supporting more communities, and making sure that we would have an approach which was not only encouraging tourism during the summertime, but much more in the wintertime and 365 days per year. And not only in the three major cities, but for people to go to different regions of Canada. I think we have an opportunity to make this sector stronger following this pandemic. The tourism sector for a long time has been based on bringing Canadians elsewhere in the world. It was not necessarily to bring people to Canada, and to make sure that we would bring them to different regions. We can build back the sector based on these new premises. That’s why we have an opportunity, and I think we should see to it.