Tourism is a very significant industry in Northern Ontario and the travel restrictions necessary to control the spread of Covid-19 are having real impacts on both tourism operators and the local businesses that rely on the people those operators attract. The tourism industry brings business to restaurants, hotels/motels, mom & pop shops, fishing/hunting lodges, museums, provincial/national parks and the list goes on.
Without tourists, many of the businesses that rely on them will suffer a great deal during this pandemic. Many may not exist post-pandemic if measures aren’t taken to bridge the economic gap while we address the health crisis and the constraints it necessitates.
The U.S. market is the largest tourism market for Northern Ontario, so international travel restrictions, while critically necessary for health reasons, will have large and predictable economic consequences. What does the absence of tourists mean for your community?
For starters, your favourite restaurant will see less action this summer than it did last year (that is if they are allowed to open at all). The best known motel/hotel will see a loss of travelers spending the night or nights. The museum that preserves the history of your town/city will experience a decline of traffic, and that well known fly-in fishing lodge will have many open cabins, deprived of enthusiastic adventure seeking individuals that the North attracts.
To better understand the effects that COVID-19 will have on this summer's tourism industry, it is beneficial to look at information provided by Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO) in “The Path Forward - A Framework for Ontario Indigenous Tourism Recovery” and the foreseen impacts that COVID-19 will have on Indigenous tourism specifically. It is anticipated that revenues lost due to the pandemic in the Indigenous tourism sector alone will be a staggering $330 million. Along with this, it is expected that there will be a loss of 4,000 jobs in Indigenous tourism as well.
It may seem that for many businesses that rely on tourists (both international and out of province) this is a tough situation with no obvious way to mitigate the impacts of travel bans and other health restrictions. But there are things you can do to salvage these summer months for businesses that rely on tourism. Kevin Eshkawkogan, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario, suggested to “explore your backyard."
A board member at at NPI and member of the M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Eshkawkogan plays a major role in the Indigenous tourism association of Ontario as well as in the tourism association of Ontario and much more. Because many businesses who offer educational opportunities to tourists will experience the absence of tourists, it is time to get out into your own community and learn from those that share the same home as you.
Mr. Eshkawkogan strongly believes in the resiliency of the Indigenous Tourism sector, as well as, the resiliency of Indigenous peoples as a whole. He is confident that because of this, ITO will emerge from this pandemic even stronger and more resilient. Eshkawkogan is optimistic about ways in which the industry itself will change due to these times of uncertainty. Data collected by Destination Northern Ontario (DNO) supports Eshkawkogan’s view that the industry faces a major challenge and that it needs support from local consumers to bridge this crisis.
This data shows the effects that COVID-19 has already had between March 23 and April 6 on tourism in Northern Ontario. A total loss of $8,996,126.00 in revenue. Over 80 per cent of reasons for cancellation are that of closed borders and physical distancing guidelines. Employee layoff and business closures making up 14 per cent, and 6 per cent for event cancellations.
This comes back to the question, how can businesses that rely on tourism during the summer months salvage some of this year? Again, that all relies on the people located within driving distance of tourist-oriented businesses. As mentioned by Mr. Eshkawkogan, it is important that we explore our backyards and what better time to do so than now? With intra-provincial restrictions easing, but the restrictions on international and inter-provincial travel likely to stay in place, it is a great time to get out and explore your community. Rediscover all the opportunities that are offered to many out of province/out of country travelers that are now easier for you to explore and learn about.
While talking to Mr. Eshkawkogan, the biggest thing that struck a chord was the word resiliency. Ontario, and specifically Northern Ontario gives birth to individuals that seem to be programmed differently.
A strong sense of community, strength and adaptability, growth and pride, these are just a few characteristics that come to mind when thinking about the people of Northern Ontario. These are difficult times of great uncertainty. The tourism sector is confident they can survive because they are relying on the support of their local communities to make it through and we will not let them down. Stay physically distant, but get out there and enjoy what Ontario has to offer.
A special thank you to Mr. Eshkawkogan for taking time out of his busy schedule to have a very detailed discussion with me.
To find more about him and other members at NPI visit the ‘Our People’ section on our page.
 The Path Forward - A Framework for Ontario Indigenous Tourism Recovery
 Northern Ontario COVID-19 Survey Result. Destination Northern Ontario. Ontario, 2020.
Author: Andrew Jalak is a Communication Officer at NPI.