“We’re absolutely ready!” says Christopher Bloore, the President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.
“Ontario is excited about welcoming back tourists to our province as soon as government restrictions are lifted,” he says. “Tourism operators in Ontario have implemented the highest standards of health and safety protocols since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of dollars have been spent on adapting premises, training staff and changing processes to ensure a seamless, safe and welcoming environment when businesses are given the go-ahead.”
In Quebec, the recent announcement of the Quebec government's predictable and gradual reopening plan allows the tourism industry to work even more actively on its recovery. In addition, the provincial government has also announced important incentives to encourage Quebecers to discover the regions around them, visit attractions and participate in new activities. Our businesses have a lot to offer and many dates are still available for the upcoming summer," said Martin Soucy, President and CEO of the Alliance de l'industrie touristique du Québec.
"The reopening plan has restored the opportunity to travel, and the programs and packages put in place will provide plenty of ideas for all those who are eager to return to the pleasures of travel and tourism in Quebec. With the measures in place, the thousands of tourism businesses in all regions will be ready to safely welcome this return."
He also noted that in addition to the increasingly favourable context within the province, health measures will remain in place in tourism businesses throughout the summer to ensure the safety of visitors and employees. This includes mandatory masks to be worn inside establishments and limits on gatherings that will vary depending on the context.
“Quebec's tourism businesses, already masters in the art of receiving and applying the highest standards of cleanliness, have spared no effort in welcoming travelers this summer with the utmost respect for sanitary measures. In solidarity with public health, the tourism industry has adopted an exemplary sanitary plan to protect citizens, travelers as well as its workers and suppliers," added Mr. Soucy
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Some tourism companies in both Ontario and Quebec have found ways to innovate and adapt to the restrictive government rules that are necessitated by the pandemic.
For example, Escape Manor is an Ottawa-based company that runs escape room experiences in Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Cornwall, Saskatoon, Regina and even Brisbane, Australia. To tackle closures of in-person activities and changing capacity limit rules, Escape Manor created new virtual escape room experiences that have proven very popular, and that also adhere to hygienic requirements.
Saunders Farm is a family-owned farm a short drive southwest of Ottawa that is known for its hedge mazes, farm-fresh food and family activities in summer, and its spooky haunted house-style attraction each October. In summer 2020 (and returning in 2021), the farm offered campfire experiences, whereby visitors enjoy a physically-distanced campfire for a few hours, complete with wood for the fire, hot dogs, kettlecorn and a s’mores kit.
At Blue Mountain Village near Georgian Bay, the Agora Path of Light was designed as a new COVID-19-safe interactive light experience. On this path, participants encounter a series of lighting installations based on the five elements of air, space, earth, water and fire. From a business perspective, the attraction was conceived to drive incremental visitation to the Blue Mountain destination at a time when traditional events have not been permitted under public health guidelines.
The On-The-Grand Drive In, located in Kitchener, was a 25,000-person outdoor amphitheater, but it has been repurposed for use as an outdoor movie theatre by operators Bingemans during the pandemic. The drive-in theatre has a 60’x30’ screen for showing movies, but it also hosts Yuk Yuks comedy events, live band concerts and light shows.
In Quebec, many businesses have found ways to adapt to the COVID-19 restrictions, and have shown agility and focus by pivoting to things like online and contact-free solutions for welcoming guests and customers, as well as reorganizing spaces and processes. This includes hotels that have created inventive settings that allow guests to enjoy meals in beautiful, secure and intimate retreats. For example, the Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City created the "Supper under the Stars" to allow visitors to eat in their "bubble" which is actually an outdoor greenhouse on the hotel's terrace.
Québec City’s Winter Carnival is a solid example of the complete redesign of programming to align with public health directives. Notably, ice and snow sculptures were set up in several locations in Québec City to create spaces where visitors could safely take a stroll in beautiful, luminous spaces.
In Baie-Saint-Paul, Le Festif music festival has converted itself to “La Petite Affaire,” which has been nicknamed as “the smallest festival of the year.”
Programming for the September festival was moved to small locations with limited attendance, revealed only hours before show time to avoid unexpected crowds, and with a battery of adjustments to enhance the customer experience.
Those seeking some professional advice on a vacation to Quebec can now contact the Association des agences réceptives et forfaitistes du Québec (ARF-Québec). They have launched the Explore Quebec tourism package platform, which was originally intended for an international audience but has been adapted for domestic vacationers – first Quebec residents and then all Canadians (once restrictions are lifted). The Explore Quebec package takes in some of the more remote regions of the province, and includes a discount of up to 50% on no-frills flights.
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD
Tourism stakeholders in Ontario – and across the country – have worked hard to educate the public and public officials about the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. Many people know a friend or family member who has lost their job, or had their hours reduced, or they know of a business that's been closed during the pandemic.
“In Ontario we’re fortunate to have world class tourism experiences in every corner of our province,” says Bloore at the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, and he wants to remind Ontarians that this great diversity of tourism offerings are sometimes just a short distance from their homes.
“We're confident that with a combination of a phased lifting of restrictions, initial hesitancy for overseas travel, and pent-up demand to travel, Ontarians will see the benefits of supporting domestic tourism operators and their local economies when making their holidays plans this year,” said the Association president.
The outlook is much the same in Quebec, where residents have already demonstrated an affinity for the tourism opportunities in their home province.
In fact, during the summer of 2020, several regions wound up having strong seasons, after the first wave abated, as many Québécois travellers set out to discover parts of Québec they had never seen, said Martin Soucy at L’Alliance de l’industrie touristique du Québec.“We expect this to be the case again this year, with even greater demand due to the lifting of travel restrictions between regions and less stringent health regulations. With vaccination progressing well, Quebecers will feel safe and comfortable traveling in their beautiful province.”