Seasonal camps put out plea for help


Many seasonal camps are on the brink of permanent closure, according to representatives from Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO), Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO). The three tourism industry groups have appealed to the provincial and federal governments to provide support to all seasonal tourism businesses across Northern Ontario. There are over 1,000 seasonal lodges, resorts and campgrounds across Northern Ontario that are currently struggling to survive, they said in a press release.

These businesses cater to anglers, hunters, outdoor recreationists, and those seeking Indigenous cultural experiences who are from Canada, the United States and internationally. The industry contributes more than $400 million to the Northern economy, during its five months season.

“There are hundreds of small Indigenous business and thousands of Indigenous people who rely on the tourism sector in Northern Ontario to provide revenue generating avenues and meaningful work experiences to maintain and try to improve their socio-economic conditions. Demand for Indigenous experiences has never been higher and many of these businesses and jobs will not exist in 3-12 months,” said the press release.

Although the group acknowledges “there is some great work being done,” they state that the small business relief eligibility criteria prevent many seasonal businesses from being able to apply for the various wage subsidy and loan programs. Without those supports and no revenues coming in, due to seasonal camps being classed as non-essential, business owners are looking at the potential of closing their doors permanently, they said. NOTO believes support is needed from the Province to waive costs like annual Crown resource fees for bear management areas, land use permits and bait harvester licences. These are annual fees that tourism businesses in Northern Ontario pay in order to continue to offer some outdoor experiences on Crown land. The approximate total of these annual fees to the industry is $1.2 million.

“Optimism is a notable quality, but what we must deal with is the realism that many small northern tourism businesses will not survive if they do not get timely and realistic help. We are asking our Federal and Provincial governments to focus on funding that will have a meaningful impact toward the survival of this industry,” Said Bob Garson, NOTO President. “We must survive or efforts to revive the economy will all be for nothing. Tourism operators are in the midst of planning for a delayed start to an already short season or not opening at all this year.”

ITO President and Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Eshkawkogan states, “ITO agrees with NOTO, many businesses will not survive without tangible targeted help. In particular, the already vulnerable and emerging Indigenous tourism businesses in Northern Ontario are in serious jeopardy. Market demand was never higher and businesses are reporting that they have already lost 80-100 percent of their business revenue for 2020. ITO believes further support for Indigenous businesses through those best positioned to help is needed.”

For example, Aboriginal Financial Institutes across Ontario are the best suited to provide loan and non-repayable contributions to Indigenous tourism businesses of all sorts – from the Cultural Entrepreneur to larger Indigenous owned and controlled businesses. “We applaud the assistance announced on Saturday, April 18, by the Federal government,” noted the press release.

As cancellations from domestic and international guests are filling email inboxes as a result of travel restrictions and from being responsible Canadians, operators are faced with difficult decisions and discussions with valued guests. Postponing trips to late in the season or to the following year, or providing refunds, all present different challenges for a business that relies on deposits to cover the high costs of opening or maintaining fixed costs while they remain closed Without a known date of when new revenues will begin to flow the stress on these seasonal small businesses seems insurmountable, said the release.

“We are making every effort to bring forward recommendations that will provide meaningful support to our tourism business owners. We are working with regional, Provincial and Federal associations to raise awareness and will continue to do so. The reality is that Ontario needs tourism businesses to survive in order to help our economy recover when the time comes, particularly in Northern Ontario,” remarked Laurie Marcil, NOTO Executive Director.

“ITO is in full agreement with Mrs. Marcil and will be engaging a group of Indigenous ‘Business Support Brokers’ to help Indigenous tourism businesses navigate the many support programs and find a path to recovery and resurgence. Now is a great time to collaborate and find solutions so all Northern Ontarians can enjoy and prosper from the resource that surrounds all Northern Ontarians.” Stated Kevin Eshkawkogan.

Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) President and CEO Beth Potter said, “Tourism is an integral part of Northern Ontario’s economy as it is in the entire province. We fully support the proposals put forward by NOTO and endorsed by ITO to ensure the survival of our industry and the SME’s that will be at the heart of our economic recovery. Business owners have told us via our comprehensive industry consultations that many are close to permanent closure if they don’t get immediate direct financial aid to help pay commercial rents, utility bills, loans and debts.

More debt deferral measures will simply saddle businesses with insurmountable debt that means they won’t be able to kickstart our economy and rehire the hundreds of thousands of Canadians that have lost their jobs. We can secure the future of our local and provincial economies – but we must act urgently to do so.”