Tourism is the by-product of a vibrant community. Sue, from our team, said that while the two of us were having a lively conversation a few weeks ago. You see, tourism impact is calculated as a % of revenues, staffing, etc. of businesses within the hospitality, recreation, retail, and entertainment industries. That is why in the stats that come out, the government recognizes more than 200,000 tourism related businesses but only 400,000 tourism related jobs – because only a fraction of the businesses’ workforce is attributed to tourism.
Sue’s incredible sound-bite was spoken when I was trying to coherently articulate my frustration with the formula. It stemmed from a Destination Canada report which spoke to the fact that the government takes 20% of restaurant revenue and 20% of restaurant staff and attributes those numbers to tourism impact. My argument was that when a restaurant closes in a community, that community has lost 100% of the revenue, and 100% of the staff no longer have a job.
When CCT facilitates a Community Tourism Plan, one of the first things we talk about with the working group is that the word “tourism” is the biggest barrier of success for tourism. And that is because when you say “tourist”, there is a pre-conceived notion of international visitors coming by bus to invade your town and space. The fact of the matter is that tourism businesses in Central Counties and around the province rely heavily on their locals to stay viable. And the majority of their “tourists” – which we define as people who don’t live or work within the municipal boundaries – are from Ontario. The people visiting your communities to spend their disposable income do not consider themselves tourists any more than you would recognize them as ones.
What does all of this mean when you layer it on top of the current world in which we live? Well, for one, it means that there is hope for the businesses that survive. It is the locals who are going to return to where they feel comfortable, which will help the cashflow get started. Then people will venture to nearby communities for a change of pace, which will increase the base of spending. And in the medium-term, people will begin to explore other areas of the province, which will have more people leaving their money in your registers.
We are going on three months since the province shut down. Back on March 16, there was fear and panic for many operators in Central Counties and around the country. Three months later, there is fear and frustration as society is slowly re-opened. Much like there was confusion over all of the measures the various levels of government put in place to assist individuals and businesses, there are mixed messages and confusion over who is allowed to open, and who gives them permission to do so. And, of course, fear that if you don’t get opened soon, it may never happen.
While it may not make you feel any better, rest assured you are not alone. This is probably one of the most critical issues facing tourism businesses at the moment. Why was the Toronto Zoo allowed to open, but African Lion Safari – the original (and best) drive-through experience – not? Why are some farmers markets re-opening while others can only still do curbside pick-up? Why did golf courses get to re-open but outdoor mini-golf has to stay closed?
The province is well aware of these concerns, as they are hearing them every day from the RTO’s, sector associations like Attractions Ontario, and individual businesses pleading for some clarity. And before we get all up-in-arms about the federal/provincial response to COVID-19, I think it’s important to acknowledge that they are moving ridiculously fast for government. They are also in uncharted territory and don’t have a road-map or playbook to work from.
Having said that, they do recognize that there is a problem with consistency across the province and are trying to figure out how to align the messaging and the rules. The biggest issue is determining who is in charge of saying yes to a business being allowed to re-open. Unfortunately, it isn’t a fight for the right to have that power, it is a “I don’t want to be the one making the decision” problem. In last month’s intro, I spoke to the importance of developing your re-opening operations plan. Many of you have done that and believe that you can meet the social distancing guidelines currently in place from the province.
Several have reached out to us for advice and we have suggested that they submit their plans to both their regional Public Health Departments and to the province for approval. More times than not, Public Health says to check with the province and the province says that Public Health makes the decision. Neither has said no, but neither has said yes. It is most likely an unforeseen issue that the province and the public health units have to resolve, and quickly.
In the meantime, I still suggest reaching out to your public health unit and perhaps even your municipal council to demonstrate that you have a solid operations plan in place that allows for social distancing and minimizes staff and public risk. If they say the decisions rest with the province, find out who their contacts are in the Ministry and send the plan to them. Regardless of whether you get immediate approval to re-open, you have shown that you are prepared for when you get the green light.
These are frustrating times for business owners who just want to welcome back their guests and provide them with a great experience. For many, the frustration is amplified by the anxiety of needing to re-open to stay viable. I do caution against opening too soon and without approval from some level of government. And it isn’t a concern that you will get your hand slapped by the authorities, but rather a concern over the potential backlash from residents within your community. In this age of social media, the potential damage could be devastating if the public thinks you are in violation of these “grey area” rules. Through TIAO and the sector associations, we will continue to push for clarity and the ability for businesses to re-open when they demonstrate they can operate within the current public safety guidelines rather than lumped together as part of a phase of recovery.
Things seem to be improving each day and as the restrictions ease, I want to assure you that CCT is here to help your business ramp back up. We have launched the Virtual Road Trip and the Virtual Market, and both are receiving great attention. In fact, the Virtual Road Trip was recognized as a best practice by the international Travel Courier publication. We are working hard to keep our great communities top of mind for when people are able to venture out beyond their local boundaries. There is still time for you to participate and we are always looking to partner with you on the development of compelling content.
As always, please reach out to me directly if you have any questions or comments. I can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fingers crossed that we can meet in person soon!