Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO), on behalf of the resource-based tourism industry, is calling on the Canadian government to open the Canada-U.S. border July 22 to fully vaccinated American and global travellers.
There are more than 1,000 seasonal lodges, resorts, campgrounds, outposts and outfitters across Northern Ontario that, after almost two years of pandemic-related restrictions, are on the verge of total collapse, according to a media release issued by NOTO Monday.
“The loss (of) these businesses will have deep and far-ranging impacts on many local communities and the people whose livelihoods depend on seasonal tourism. The most affected operators offer services to anglers, hunters, outdoor recreationists and those seeking a Canadian wilderness experience, the majority of whom are from the United States but also from around the world,” NOTO executive director Laurie Marcil said.
“This is the tipping point for many of these businesses. Without reopening our borders they are facing the loss of yet another tourism season at the same time as government support programs are being rolled back or shut down.”
She said 90 per cent of the clientele for about half of all resource-based tourism businesses are based in the U.S.
“These businesses and their guests contribute over $400 million in GDP, which is retained in Northern Ontario during a four- to five-month operating season. The loss of May, June and July after losing an entire revenue season last year is financially devastating. Many operators have depleted their life savings to stay afloat financially and they need to be back in business now, not weeks or months,” Marcil said.
It’s not just business operators who are suffering.
Marcil said thousands of people are being affected by the loss of seasonal employment, on top of the lost revenue for local businesses, service providers and suppliers.
A recent study entitled ‘The Impacts of COVID-19 on Northern Ontario Accommodations and Recommendations for Future Planning,’ commissioned by Destination Northern Ontario in 2021, revealed that the resource-based tourism sector has seen a 91 per cent decline in revenue compared to pre-COVID numbers.
The study also concluded that the increased debt tourism businesses have incurred during this pandemic means the sector will take up to five years to get back to 2019 profitability levels.
“When you consider the (federal) budget, which proposes winding down the wage subsidy and other financial support programs for businesses, and no definitive plan on when the border will open to their guests, tourism business owners are extremely fearful of their future,” Marcil said.
“The new money international travellers bring will be critical to getting not only our businesses but Canada’s economy back on the road to recovery.”
The federal government recently announced loosening of restrictions for Canadians and certain foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated by eliminating the need for quarantine and additional testing.
Marcil said although this is a good first step, the lifting of restrictions needs to be extended to non-essential travellers by July 22.
Sue Crane, owner and operator of a remote French River resort, said 75 per cent of her customers come from the U.S.
She said she was “overly optimistic” that the border would reopen in July.
“I hung on hoping the border would open, but if it doesn’t my 95 per cent occupancy will drop to 15 per cent.”
Crane said she is now concerned her bookings will drop again in August.
“We’re full at this time, but if the border doesn’t reopen we will see a major revenue (loss).”
Marcil said a formal request will be made to the federal government to open the border to fully vaccinated travellers.
She said 70 per cent of Ontarians will be fully vaccinated by July 19 and 75 per cent by Aug. 1.
“The time is now. Let’s hope the government will listen and we get our American friends back.”
Marcil said the tourism industry can’t sustain further border closures and with only a few months to generate revenue, it’s vital that action be taken now.
She said many operators have not seen any revenue since 2019, with businesses unable to take on any more debt or be sustained further by government programs.
(North Bay Nugget)