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Tourism entering ‘dangerous time’ as new COVID restrictions introduced, says association

Festivals and Events Ontario weighs impact of new capacity limits
Indoor tourist attractions, such as Dynamic Earth in Sudbury, must close following new provincial restrictions aimed at curbing COVID infections.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Tourism Industry Association of Ontario when it should have quoted Festivals and Events Ontario

Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO) is concerned additional COVID-related provincial restrictions introduced this week will bring fresh uncertainty to the province's tourism industry.

Among measures announced Jan. 3, in-house dining at restaurants is prohibited; meeting and event spaces must close; and museums, galleries, science centres, and other attractions must also close.

The move was made in an effort to slow the rate of COVID infections from the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the disease, which is resulting in more cases and putting the stability of the health-care system at risk.

In a Jan. 3 note to members, Dave MacNeil, the CEO at FEO, called it “another excruciatingly painful day for our industry.”

“I know how hard you have all worked to make your venues and businesses safe for your patrons,” MacNeil said. “The health data reflects that our industry has been hugely successful in reducing transmission, and that makes today’s announcements even more frustrating.

“In my view, 21 months into this pandemic, this is the most dangerous time for our industry, as the economic scars of the pandemic have left many heavily debt-laden whilst at the same time facing steep rises in costs and falling revenues.”

In the same message, MacNeil welcomed the announcement of an expanded rebate program designed to support businesses forced to close because of COVID-related capacity restrictions.

Announced on Dec. 22, the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program (OBCRP) will reimburse affected businesses with a portion of the property tax and energy costs they incur while subject to capacity limits.

With new restrictions announced this week, the program will be expanded further.

Businesses required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their property tax and energy costs, while businesses required to close for indoor activities will receive a rebate equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs.

A full list of eligible businesses is expected to be released in mid-January when the application process opens.

In the meantime, MacNeil said FEO will continue lobbying for more support to aid members.  

The organization wants a reinstatement of the commercial eviction ban, and the ability to write off significant portions of government loans, including from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

“Such a move would give businesses greater certainty in planning to survive the pandemic and protect jobs,” MacNeil said.