After two long years, tourism is set to return to the Kawarthas.
Our region has been in an awkward situation for the last two years for our summer tourism season. The messaging has been stay home, but people were limited in their recreational options and flocked to the region from across Ontario. Many of those who were able to open and offer activities did well, but many others were forced to close or significantly scale back their offerings.
Through it all, our borders remained closed to all but essential travellers and people willing to stay long enough to go through the self isolation process.
As of April 1, fully vaccinated visitors to Canada will no longer be required to take a COVID-19 test unless selected for random testing. Partially or unvaccinated travellers will still need to follow applicable testing criteria.
Though many Canadians will take advantage of relaxed border restrictions to travel beyond our borders, many have established new hobbies, traditions, and a love for Ontario offerings. Capitalizing on this, the government of Ontario is offering the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit. This offers 20% back on eligible 2022 accommodation expenses up to $1,000 per individual or $2,000 per family. This includes hotels, motels, resorts, lodges, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages and campgrounds — all of which can be found right here in the Kawarthas.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is currently advocating for a similar program from the federal government for domestic tourism that includes hospitality activities like dining. Time will tell if this is included in the upcoming federal budget.
All of this opportunity comes at a time when nearly all public health restrictions have been lifted. Venues are free to sell out to capacity crowds, restaurants can host a full Friday night compliment, and recreational activities can resume. We’ll see the return of sports tournaments, concerts, and cultural events.
And this time around we can openly welcome our visitors.
This is the summer many of our businesses desperately need.
According to Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development, our region welcomes more than 3 million visitors annually who spend approximately $365 million at local tourism-related businesses.
Despite the influx of tourists, it’s going to take time to rebuild. While capacity limits can be lifted at the stroke of a pen, filling back up to capacity isn’t so easy. Staff have moved on to jobs that still offered a steady paycheque while the tourism industry was mostly shut down. Hiring an all-new fresh team is daunting and comes with big challenges. Chefs need to learn a new menu, administrative staff have to learn what products to order and booking staffing levels, and reactional activity providers need to learn the ropes before instructing customers. And there isn’t exactly a large pool of people waiting to get trained and jump into the tourism and hospitality industry.
On top of that, many business owners are already financially stretched to the limit from trying to survive the last two years that buying inventory, hiring staff, and investing in their facilities is challenging. Many will have to start all over again building their customer base, which takes time and money.
At the end of the day, many business operators are simply exhausted and the busy season hasn’t even begun.
All this to say that relaxing health and travel restrictions is a big move for many local businesses, but it’s by no means the end of their challenges. It’s going to take intentional, targeted investment and continued supports for our hardest hit businesses, including tourism and hospitality, to be able to thrive for years to come.