The tourism industry in Ontario needs a comprehensive strategy that addresses workforce development, regulatory burdens, infrastructure deficits and regional disparities.
That’s the push from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario in their The State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report released Dec. 13.
In November we addressed the executive summary that was released earlier, but the completed report takes a deep dive into the issues holding back the tourism sector and drives home the need for the government to create a thorough strategy for it.
Tourism is a vital sector in the provincial economy and is critical for economic recovery.
While domestic and inbound tourism improved in the second half of 2022, the industry is not expected to fully recover from the pandemic until 2025. With rising concerns over a looming recession, cost of living and spending habits, the sector requires a path forward that addresses the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 border closures, capacity restrictions, and structural issues.
The report highlights some bleak findings, including that 4 in 10 tourism operators forecast profitability in 2024 and beyond, and that tourism businesses have accumulated soaring debt to remain financially viable during the pandemic.
While nature-based tourism is having more success compared to its urban counterpart, the rural aspect of it creates more issues with accessing labour. Many tourism employers are in beautiful wilderness areas where nearby housing options are largely waterfront and custom homes, both of which are a bit too pricey for many service sector workers. Attracting people from more suburban locations requires access to a car, which creates barriers in terms of travel time and expenses. With so many service sector businesses hiring closer to where the majority of people live, rural tourism employers need to attract workers who have a passion for the industry and working in the Kawarthas.
Access to a workforce with the skills, experience, and availability needed is one the biggest challenges holding tourism business back right now. Suggestions in the report include:
• Re-conceptualizing how people view tourism careers
• Optimizing work placement opportunities for post-secondary students
• Reforming immigration to retain international students and reliably attract international
workers that meet the needs of the industry
• Consistently promoting job-ready skills in the high school curriculum
• Ensuring that decision-making is data-driven and specific to each locality
The report itself lays out a detailed analysis of barriers in the tourism sector with a tangible set of recommendations on each issue. It’s divided into four sections: economy, labour, infrastructure and the future of tourism in Ontario. The key issues and recommendations discussed speak to themes of labour gaps and instability, the uneven pace of economic recovery, red tape, the housing crisis, connectivity, transportation networks, investment attraction, destination development, economic growth, and sustainability.
The report concludes that in order for Ontario’s tourism industry to grow, attract investment, and remain resilient, we must address the economic, labour, and infrastructure barriers impeding the full potential of the industry.
The beauty of the Kawarthas and opportunities to explore it will continue to draw visitors to our region. Investing in a robust tourism sector with a clear and progressive strategy will help us make the most of what we have to offer, giving visitors a better experience and building stronger local communities.