Tony Baldinelli says he has been asking the federal government for a recovery plan specific to the tourism industry since last March.
He’s still waiting. He understands the time for the return of visitors is in the future, but the time to be planning for that return is now — in fact, it was many months ago, he says.
The Conservative MP represents the Niagara Falls riding, but the urgent need is for a recovery plan that covers the different tourism sectors across Canada, with each experiencing its own specific issues, as well as many overlapping problems, such as the closure of businesses and the loss of jobs.
In Niagara, he says, tourism has lost its international visitors, including Americans. They are the tourists who stay longer and spend more. The U.S. is doing much better at its vaccinations than Canada, projecting a completion time of June, and at that point, the discussion of opening borders may begin, but there is no sign of a plan for how to deal with it. In Canada, “if we remain on track for vaccinations completed September, we’ve still missed another tourism season, and we’re into the shoulder season,” he says.
“We all recognize we’re not going to open borders any time soon, but when we do, how do we do it? What is the plan for vaccines and testing as part of getting those borders open? What is our recovery plan going forward?”
There is an online petition asking all Canadian citizens, whether in the tourism industry or not, to sign, and help prod the federal government to begin the discussion.
As an example, he says, Calgary has a pilot project with testing for people as they arrive in the province. “How do we take that information and start to plan how to use it in similar places, like Niagara, with four border crossings?”
The petition also talks about developing sector-specific health guidelines, which include a combination of federal and provincial programs which enable sectors to resume work operations in a safe and responsible manner when they’re able to re-open. It also asks for funds for small businesses to make health and safety changes to help handle those situations safely when businesses do open.
In December, he says, the unemployment rate in Canada was less than 8.6 per cent. But in the tourism sector, it was 14.6 per cent, 10 percentage points higher than it was in December 2019. The accommodation and food and beverage industries were both higher than the general unemployment rate.
The tourism sector, Baldinelli adds, employs one in every 11 Canadians, and a third of Ontario small businesses have said they may not survive this second lockdown.
“This is the sector that’s the hardest hit, and will take the longest to recover,” he says. “There is a lot of work to do to ensure these sectors can get through this second wave.”
Across Niagara region, 40,000 tourism-related jobs were lost, he says.
“That’s 40,000 of our friends and neighbours,” he adds. “We need a recovery plan to provide some security for them to reopen.”
Some details of a plan would restore confidence in the tourism industry, and would be “throwing a lifeline” for those who aren’t sure about their future, he says.
The petition is online until Feb. 7 and is doing well, says Baldinelli. It’s important for all Canadians to show support for those working in the tourism industry, and this petition, initiated by Billy Morrison, his communications advisor and legislative assistant, “captures what I’ve been hearing.”
It asks the federal government to present a sector-specific tourism recovery plan by the date of the 2021 federal budget, which has not yet been announced; and that it addresses the specific needs of tourism sectors across Canada, including “the urgent and complete development, implementation, and deployment of Health Canada-approved vaccines and rapid testing devices.”
The plan should also include “sector-specific health guidelines, which enable sectors to resume work operations in a safe and responsible manner;” and be used “as a tool to begin restoring public confidence in travel and tourism.”
You can sign the petition online at: https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-3027