Reopening does not mean recovery for tourism industry

By Natali Trivuncic

Staff Writer

The Canada-U.S. border officially opened on Monday, but despite border workers reaching a tentative agreement, there was a long wait to get into the country. The fear of border workers going on strike is not a threat to tourism operators any longer, but they are facing much larger problems such as hiring staff and securing insurance.

The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) held an industry call in late July discussing the issues that many border businesses are faced with as they get ready to welcome American guests.

Christopher Bloore, president and CEO of TIAO, said the issue of commercial insurance continues to be raised by members about the fact that premiums seem to be going up.

Bloore adds that in some cases, people are not able to get quotes for insurance at all. He said there is some movement on the issue, and they are working to bring other sectors together to put some sort of formal request into the federal government to deal with the commercial insurance issue.

“It’s becoming a bigger issue, not just for the amount of money that people are having to hand out but also the ability to get the full level of insurance that they need to operate,” Bloore said. “I’m hoping that we’re going to have something to give to the Prime Minister and the finance minister fairly soon, because it’s getting to the stage now where it’s something that’s becoming progressively worse and worse.”

While the reopening is a semblance of hope into normalcy, Bloore said it will be well into 2022 before the tourism industry goes back to what it was before the pandemic, adding that other factors will also have to be taken into consideration.

“And that’s going to require the government to come to decisions on what vaccine passports may look like if they do or don’t have them, and what they’re going to put in place to ensure that we don’t have the full shutdown of our economy and our industry, again, if cases arise,” Bloore said.

Some of the big issues Bloore said they are trying to get across to all levels of government is that they cannot shut down the tourism industry like this again.

“There has to be some way for people to be able to continue to operate and do business and part of that is getting out within the community to remind MPs and candidates that they can’t forget about the tourism industry,” Bloore said.

Bloore said tourism businesses are also finding it difficult to find staff to work the rest of the tourism season, which will be shorter than normal. Whether tourism destinations are ready or not, American guests are eager to cross over.

Tom Pearson, owner of Camp Narrows Lodge, said it is great the border has opened after the hardships and uncertainties faced last summer.

“It’s just been a great week for me, because I’m just so excited,” Pearson said. “So far, so good.”

Pearson said the uncertainties surrounding the border did cause some of his American guests to cancel this week. But Pearson said he is hopeful as time goes on that more will be confident crossing the border.

Although some tourism businesses have had trouble finding staff to work the last few months of the summer season, Pearson said he has had no problem, adding that he is not fully staffed but is able to manage with the staff he does have.

Pearson said his only concern is the rate of the Delta variant, adding that he is not buying in bulk in the chance that the border does have to close again.

“I don’t know if the border is going to be opened in two or three weeks. Who knows what will happen? So that’s the only problem I see,” Pearson said.

Although having guests for less than four months does not make up for more than a year without business, Pearson said it is a sign of hope for next year.

Although having guests for less than four months does not make up for more than a year without business, Pearson said it is a sign of hope for next year.