‘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

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he’d been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

Police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

National Volunteer Week runs April 18th to 24th.
photo submitted
Celebrating the commitment of volunteers in Rimbey

National Volunteer Week runs April 18th to 24th

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

Most Read