Lisa MonfortonCharlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, is at the helm of the organization that is the champion of Canada’s tourism industry. Travel generates $1.2 billion a year and employs one in 10 Canadians, making it the fifth largest industry in the country.

Travel Like This asked Bell a series of questions about the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and how she foresees the year unfolding.

How do you see the travel industry evolving over the next year, or until there’s a vaccine?

There is a great deal of uncertainty at the moment as we grapple with a lack of consistency and collaboration between the provinces and federal government. Provinces are at different stages of recovery and reopening, and that means tourism to and within different parts of the country is now dependent on those different stages. B.C. has opened campsite bookings, for example, whereas parts of Ontario are still in Phase 1 of recovery.

That’s why we’re asking the federal government to engage with us in working out a plan for reopening the visitor economy thoughtfully and responsibly. That dialogue is extremely important to ensure we don’t lose the entire summer season and ultimately the visitor economy.

Can you talk about how the pandemic has affected tourism-dependent cities, thinking of those close to my home: Banff and Jasper?

Tourism was the first hit and hardest hit industry from the pandemic – especially for communities that rely heavily on tourism. Our sector represents airlines, airports, hotels, convention centres, festivals and fairs, attractions of all kinds, international education, as well as iconic national sites.

Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada
Charlotte Bell

Of the 1.8 million Canadian jobs supported by this sector, over 800,000 have already been lost. Many tourism businesses will not likely be able to reopen.

The industry fully recognizes that public health and safety must be a priority. That is why we are calling on the federal and provincial governments to engage in constructive dialogue with this industry.

We have a long history of adapting to changing conditions and taking appropriate steps to safeguard public health and safety. We believe that a balanced approach is needed to responsibly reopen the visitor economy, as other countries are doing at this time.

How do you see those destinations recovering?

Our sector has already started important work to put a recovery plan into place. The airlines and airports have put rigorous safety protocols in place, and the hotel industry has rolled out enhanced health and safety protocols for hotels in North America.

We’ve rolled out a comprehensive recovery plan that includes immediate measures to help sustain our businesses, and mid- to long-term measures that will help incentivize tourism, travel, and meetings and conventions in Canada once again.

Now, we’re working on engaging with government to see this plan put into place. (The federal government recently announced $70 million for tourism in redirected funds to support domestic marketing initiatives and a number of regional destination marketing organizations, and TIAC says: This is a step in the right direction.)

I’m trying to see the positive side about rediscovering my backyard. How are you viewing COVID 19 in a positive light as it relates to tourism?

Tourism in Canada is a $102-billion industry that employs one in every 10 Canadians and accounts for over two per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product – meaning, Canada cannot afford to lose the tourism industry.

In a recent survey conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, 46 per cent of respondents said they planned to take a summer holiday. As provinces start to reopen and we look at economic recovery measures, we need continuity and collaboration across the provinces to ensure Canadians can actually rediscover their own backyard.

Tourism differs from other sectors – first, our revenues are disproportionately dependent on a short window during the high season and, also, tourism is not limited to certain regions in the country – it is a critical part of local economies across the entire country from coast to coast to coast. The importance of having some continuity in terms of recovery is going to be vital.

The sooner Canadians have certainty about where they can go across the country, the better it will be to ensure they can enjoy the summer and tourism doesn’t lose the entire season.

How do you see the tourism industry reopening across the country over the summer, taking into consideration the rollout of various phases.

The importance of having some continuity in terms of recovery is going to be vital. Discussing a comprehensive tourism reopening plan at the premiers’ table is a key part of success.

What do you think Canadians will do in terms of travel this year? Many destination management organizations are focusing on hyper-local travel. What does that mean to you, for what a stay-cation might look like, of course all dependent on the timeline of businesses reopening?

I think Canadians want to travel where it is safe to do so. Pre-COVID, this sector was the fifth largest business in Canada and an important economic driver for the country supporting 1.8 million jobs for country.

As mentioned earlier, our sector has done the legwork ahead of time to be sure that travellers – whether it is a stay-cation or exploring a part of the country they haven’t seen before – can feel safe and comfortable.

It’s all about a balanced approach, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to see an increase in travel over the summer and fall.

Travel Like This editor Lisa Monforton is an award-winning Calgary-based travel writer. Follow @lisamonforton on Instagram and Twitter.

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