Monitoring the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Resource-Based Tourism Industry in Ontario

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NOTO Resource-Based Tourism Survey Report, May 6, 2020:

As the advocacy and support organization for the resource-based tourism (RBT) industry, NOTO has taken the initiative to design a survey to measure the severe impacts that we have heard anecdotally as a result of the global pandemic reaching Canada and Ontario, and the measures all levels of Government have taken to protect the public and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

To date, the challenges for this sector are immense. With the 2020 marketing season cut short and no means to generate revenues, seasonal tourism businesses are being stretched to cover fixed costs, maintain staff and simply stay afloat. The uncertainty of whether they will have a spring, summer or fall season makes it near impossible to plan or pivot for these small businesses.

Cancellations from US guests beginning with those booked for the Spring bear hunt have been numerous and tourism operators are finding it challenging to negotiate postponing trips vs cancelling and providing refunds. The challenge for operators is that they use the money from deposits to carry them through the off-season and/or to cover start-up costs for the season so they don’t necessary have the cash to provide refunds to guests who are cancelling due to COVID-19.

At this point, we know that a good majority of operators are working with their guests to provide partial deposit dollars towards future trips (i.e. operators retain 60% of the deposit and the guest can use 40% towards their next trip). The rationale behind this is that it is not the fault of the camp operator or the guest that the trip has been cancelled and sharing the burden is the fairest process to take.

In early surveys, 121 bear hunters reported that if the US border remained closed and the spring hunt was not able to take place, they would lose collectively $2.2M. The total number of bear outfitters is approximately 436. It is now confirmed that the US/Canada border will remain closed through the Spring bear hunt season (May 1 – June 15) and these loses are now an unfortunate reality.

This survey will show that 225 RBT businesses will lose $50M if May and June operating months are not able to take place. These 225 businesses represent approximately 20% of the RBT industry in Ontario. This is absolutely devastating to an industry who provides such a significant contribution to the economy each year. Our ability to serve the US angling and hunting markets are vital to this industry’s survival. For many operators in Northwestern Ontario particularly, it will be a challenge to pivot their marketing and business models to target the domestic market. They will need support to do this.

The financial burden due to COVID-19 on the RBT industry is truly devastating. Many small businesses in this sector are not eligible for the financial support offered by the Federal Government. They are forced to seek additional loans which leave their ability to recover from COVID-19 on shaky ground. This survey takes a closer look at the programs currently offered and the gaps reported by this sector.

In order for this sector of tourism to survive and recover, we must have more meaningful support.

View Survey Summary

Bear Outfitters COVID-19 Impact Survey Results: 

This survey was sent to bear outfitting businesses across Ontario to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on bear outfitters. The significant impact of this pandemic on bear outfitters is imminent.

Through this survey we captured a "moment in time" perspective as well as provide a forecast or what the impacts will be if the travel restrictions remain in place through the spring hunt and potentially the fall bear hunt.The data was collected from March 26th to March 31st , 2020. A total of 121 operators completed the survey.

The numbers presented in the summary linked below represent only the data collected from operators who have answered the survey.

NOTO is sharing the results of this survey with Government to request support to assist these small businesses survive these difficult times.We have asked for the development of a Resource-Base Tourism Emergency Fund as well we have asked that Bear Management Area fees be waived for 2020. These results will also be shared with our colleagues on Destination Northern Ontario’s Northern Ontario COVID-19 Task Force to keep them updated with the impacts felt by the industry.

It is important to note that in Ontario, tourism businesses who provide bear hunt services to hunters must acquire a Bear Management Area through MNRF and receive an allocation of Black Bear Hunting Licence Validation Certificates for that area. The large majority of the hunters that use the services of tourism businesses are American guests. So the revenue losses that are being reported in this survey are from those American guests in Canadian dollars.

View Survey Results

NOTO & Operators Media Interviews: 

How COVID-19 is affecting outfitters in Northern Ontario (CBC News) - Lodge Eighty Eight's story

Impacts of COVID-19 on Northern Ontario's tourism industry 'swift and devastating' (Sudbury Star) - Agnew Lake Lodge's story

COVID-19 Impact Could Devastate Northwestern Ontario's Outdoor Tourism, Business Owners Say (CBC News)

Tourist Outfitters in Northern Ontario Face Huge Financial, Personal Costs (Boreal News) - Wayne Clark, of Clark's Resorts and Outposts, says the COVID -19 pandemic, and closed border, has left his huge outfitting business `dead in the water.' 

Abilene family who bought dream Canadian fishing lodge says COVID-19 flounders plans (Abilene Reporter News) - Pine Cliff Lodge in Ontario: The couple recently began running the lodge, but travel restrictions because of COVID-19 prevent them from returning for the summer season.  

'This is terrifying': Northern Ontario tourism operators calling for more help during the pandemic (CTV News) - Stakeholders say several Indigenous and seasonal tourism businesses are facing permanent closure if they don't get immediate support.

COVID-19 Taking It's Toll on Seasonal Tourism in Northern Ontario (Northern Ontario Business) - An industry that contributes $400M to the economy eyes an uncertain future.

Northern Ontario Tourism Operators Brace for Tough Season (CBC News) - Many businesses could close permanently if they lose the season, says advocacy group.

COVID-19 in Cottage Country, Part 4: The Tourism Expert (TVO) - TVO speaks with Laurie Marcil, executive director of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario, about cancelled bookings, hunting and fishing operators in crisis — and the prospect of a lost season.

Northeast's Tourism Operators Challenged to Survive (North Bay Nugget) - Industry calling for it's share of Government assistance.

Laurie Marcil Talks Spring Bear Hunt (Fish'n Canada) - Laurie Marcil is the Executive Director for Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO), which is the voice for the lodges, resorts and outfitters who are located in the North. Today Laurie is joining us to talk about the Spring Bear Hunt that starts Next Saturday, May 01.

Tourism Outlook Pretty Bleak for Northern Outpost Operators (Bay Today) - With U.S. border closed, COVID-19 could create some small business casualties if no government assistance offered, says outfitters group.

Trying Times for Indigenous, Remote Tourism Operators (The Daily Press, Timmins) - The tourism industry has taken a dive in the wake of the current pandemic. 

Survey Results from Other Tourism Organizations:

TIAO: Tourism Industry Survey 1 March 12th - March 16th 

TIAO: Tourism Industry Survey 2 March 18th - March 23rd

TIAO: Tourism Industry Survey 3 April 1st - April 6th 

TIAO: Tourism Industry Survey 4 April 22nd - 27th

Destination Northern Ontario: Northern Ontario COVID-19 Survey Results (April 6th)

Destination Northern Ontario: Northern Ontario COVID-19 Survey Results (March 23rd)

Destination Northern Ontario: Northern Ontario COVID-19 Survey Results (March 17th)


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