While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Canada continue to rise, Ontario, in particular, is being called out in international warnings.
Japan has designated Ontario, specifically, as a region with community transmission of variants of concern, which requires anyone travelling to the country from the province, in addition to a 14-day quarantine, to isolate for three days at a designated facility, with a COVID-19 test on the third day.
Earlier this week, ABC News in the U.S. published an article about why Toronto is seeing "surging" COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations while the province is still in its four-week lockdown, citing variants of concern spreading and a "slow vaccine rollout."
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans to avoid all travel to Canada, even if travellers have been fully vaccinated, categorizing the country in the most severe risk level.
It is very clear that Canada's travel and tourism industry has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Ontario, which has seen numerous swings in lockdowns, shutdowns and regional restrictions.
But Chris Bloore, vice president of government affairs and policy with the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, believes that despite the negative press about how Canada and Ontario, in particular, is managing the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the desire to travel to the province (when possible) is still there, both domestically and internationally.
"I think apart from maybe New Zealand, every country and every major city has been criticized at some stage during this last year," Bloore told Yahoo Canada. "It's not long ago that we were looking to our neighbours to the south and thinking about the spiralling cases that they've had, the sheer loss of life that they've had, so I don't think that's something that [will] particularly impact Ontario or Toronto or Canada moving forward."
"The reason for that is that I think we're in a race now with our competitors across both Canada and...internationally to make sure that consumers are confident that safety is going to be at the heart of their trip or their stay, when they choose to either travel locally or internationally."
'We've got all the tools available to us to rebuild to what we had'
The American Express Travel: Global Travel Trends Report (released in March), with a sample of 1,000 travellers in Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Mexico and the U.K., and 2,000 travellers in the U.S. surveyed between Jan. 15 and 24, found that 76 per cent of respondents were in the process of creating their "destination wish list."
A Vacation Deprivation study from Expedia, conducted online at the end of 2020 with 9,200 respondents across North and South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, found that 66 per cent of respondents globally were inspired to create a "travel bucket list" during the pandemic. The study found that 83 per cent of Canadian respondents value vacations more now than ever before, higher than the global average of 81 per cent.
Bloore stressed that Ontario's travel and tourism businesses are ready and waiting for governments to give them the opportunity to welcome people back.
"We've got all the tools available to us to rebuild to what we had pre-COVID-19 and I'm really confident that we're going to be able to do that," he said.
"We're pretty confident that if we can just redirect some of those travellers that used to book international trips back into Ontario, we'll be able to repair some of the damage that's happened over the last 12 months."
While Bloore is confident about the longer term future of Ontario's travel and tourism industry, it has been a very difficult time for the sector, including revenue and job losses, and he does have some concern about Ontario possibly "losing a share of our market" compared to international competitors who are further along in their recovery, at the moment.
"We are going to face a real labor shortage moving forward as many of our workforce have moved to other industries," he said.
"There is concern and frustration that we're not in a position yet where we're able to reopen and follow the examples of other countries that are setting out critical pathways for recovery."
One thing Bloore identified as an outstanding question for the travel and tourism industry is any indication from the federal government about when international travel could possibly resume, and what criteria would have to be met to loosen international travel restrictions. This includes any possible introduction of more rapid testing or a vaccine passport, or certificate.
"We know that we're simply not going to be able to turn off and turn on the tourism industry, we're not going to turn off and on demand," Bloore said. "I think that moving forward, that some sort of recognition that you've either [taken] a rapid test, or that you have the vaccine, is going to be something that's going to be needed."
"We just need to make sure that it's not onerous and it's part of that seamless travel experience that people are used to now."