Tourism and hospitality starting slow recovery from COVID-19 impacts

Article content

Ryan Williams knows a thing or two about the hospitality and tourism industry.

The Belleville city councillor is the vice president of Williams Hotels, the director/treasurer of the Quinte Accommodations and Attractions Association, and vice chairman of the Quinte Economic Development Commission’s board of directors. He’s also the former chairman of QuinteVation, and former president of the Bay of Quinte Tourist Council.

So who better to know how the worst global pandemic in more than a century has affected hospitality and tourism in the Bay of Quinte region?

Since COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the Canadian economy back in mid-March, the Hotel Association of Canada reports more than 250,000 workers have been laid off as hotels have experienced a 90 per cent drop in revenues as occupancy plummeted to less than five per cent.

Most Canadian hotels closed unless they were providing rooms for humanitarian purposes such as quarantine or accommodation for health-care workers.


Story continues below

Article content

The federal wage subsidy program provided some relief for the sector, but was only put in place for three months. Considering many hotels didn’t start to re-open until June, the industry called on the government to extend the subsidy until revenue losses are below 30 per cent.

Liquidity is the main problem across the tourism sector as operators try to cover fixed costs including mortgages and property taxes that didn’t disappear along with the guests.

The tourism industry is calling for additional government measures for fear the emergency government programs introduced so far, while helpful, won’t be enough to keep them afloat if the pandemic results in months of zero to little revenue.

Tourism is a $102-billion industry that employs about 1.8 million Canadians, according to government statistics.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada reports approximately one million jobs have already been lost and warns if the lockdown extends, that could escalate to 1.6 or 1.7 million job losses.

While the association supports the shutdown measures, the travel standstill has erased revenue for businesses that needed cash after weathering the slower winter period. Small businesses are reluctant to take on more debt if they might not earn any income this year.

“It’s been hard, I think across Canada it’s over 90 per cent down and it’s just crazy with hotels. We’re a bit luckier here to be in a rural hub, because if you look at airports and across city centres, they’re all down, meetings, conferences, everything. We have one hotel in Ottawa that just reopened a couple of weeks ago,” Williams said earlier this week.


Story continues below

Article content

“The great thing now is we’re seeing things come back a bit, but it has been tough. We’ve had a lot of employees laid off, about 45 or close to 50 per cent, but we’re trying to bring as many back as we can. We kept on way more than we needed, just trying to keep them going,” Williams said.

“The wage subsidies helped, but everything has been down, people aren’t travelling, people aren’t having conferences, they’re working from home. Google paid all of their employees $1,000 each to have home offices, so that’s having an effect on city centres because big companies are realizing employees can work from home.

Williams said for his company it’s re-imagining what is this economy now with tourism and no conferences or meetings. Cleanliness has more than doubled in cost with more time spent cleaning in public areas.

“We have been pretty good with cleanliness, it’s something that the brands are always on us for, and we have been improving the last 10 years, but it’s double now,” he said. “Just surface cleaning, cleaning everything double, so expenses have gone up and revenues have gone down big time.”

“You’re just trying to get through this and now try to look at what the new normal is going to be in the next year, because this is a long way from being over,” Williams said.

As for tourism, Williams said, the financial impact has been massive.

“Sandbanks (Provincial Park), I’ve written about this before, is worth $75 million to this economy, so think about that for a minute, the impact is huge. If that’s not drawing people it hurts a lot. On June 22, Sandbanks had 420 campsites booked, so that was their largest arrival day ever for the park. So will that result in regional tourism coming back, maybe a little. I know they’ve seen Quebec plates around and people are coming from Toronto. But we also can’t have that because of COVID-19, so there’s a balance. We want a moderate increase, but we don’t want to see it blow up again.


Story continues below

Article content

“I think that’s the key, keep it moderate, look at reinvention of what is happening with the economy.

“We talked about tourism this year for Belleville as a whole, we were used to having Rockfest, we were used to having golf really busy, we were used to having Sandbanks, which draws people here… Sandbanks for Belleville is probably worth $50 to $60 million a year, just a huge amount of money. So in lieu of that something like Pop-Ups and downtown with what they’re doing with Al Fresco on Front is really important. Can we invent more of this kind of stuff? If we can that will be great for everyone,” Williams said.

Another problem for tourism is the tragedy happening south of the border in the United States where coronavirus cases have reached 2.5 million with more than 122,000 deaths.

“Thank God we haven’t opened our Canadian border yet,” Williams said. I think right now in Canada we’re pretty good because we’ve levelled things off to allow us to do these things. We should be so proud of the leadership we have in Canada, things could have been so much worse, and still could be, so we have to keep our guard up and do things right.”

News Near Kingston

This Week in Flyers