By MPP Toby Barrett

There is no doubt tourism, sport and area festivals are being impacted by pandemic restrictions. The question remains where we will be over the next 18 months?

Highlights for many are the parades and festivals across our area. These bring people into Haldimand and Norfolk who spend money in our local economy. These have been cancelled going into fall – the impact of which is still to be seen.

From Lowbanks in Haldimand to Long Point in Norfolk, the Grand River and the Lake Erie shoreline traditionally attracts daytrippers, boat, cottage and trailer owners. With restrictions, to what extent are visitors continuing to boost our downtown economies?

In the culture and heritage sector, while some activity is resuming under Stage 2, museums, sporting events and performances are dependent on gatherings of people. Even if restrictions on large gatherings are lifted, physical distancing would result in significant reductions in capacity.

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries found many Ontario residents are still uncomfortable attending museums and would be hesitant to have their children attend dance or music lessons. While professional sports teams are working on changing their seasons, minor soccer and baseball have been cancelled locally. What will happen going into the fall is still to be seen.

Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover is one casualty, cancelling its 2020 season. Hagersville Rocks is another – put off until 2021. Area museums have yet to open.

The province’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) recently looked at the sector.

The FAO found from February to May, employment in tourism-connected sectors fell by 26 per cent and in the culture and heritage sector by 20 per cent. 

In 2019, the tourism, culture and heritage sectors generated a combined $43.7 billion in economic activity, representing 4.9 per cent of Ontario’s GDP. The tourism sector was supported by 147 million visits by tourists (Ontarians, interprovincial and international) who spent $29.4 billion in Ontario, supporting 335,000 jobs. The culture and heritage sector, which includes film and television production, publishing, broadcasting, performing arts and museums, contributed $24.0 billion to the economy and supported 282,000 jobs.

Looking forward, the FAO forecasts that Ontario’s overall real GDP will decline by 9.0 per cent in 2020 and rebound in 2021, growing by 8.5 per cent. However, the tourism, culture and heritage sectors face unique challenges as ongoing travel, economic and social restrictions will impact the sectors’ ability to reopen and recover. For example, the federal government has banned visits from overseas and non-essential visits from the US, and requires a 14-day quarantine for people entering the country. Until the COVID-19 outbreak is resolved such that international travel is able to significantly resume, the loss in annual spending by international tourists will reach $11.4 billion. 

Locally, the loss of international visitors is sure to have some impact on the tourism industry. The difficult question to quantify is if Ontario residents staying home and visiting local attractions is offsetting this.

I sit on a minister’s committee for Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture. If you are part of this sector and have input, please share it with me.

Our area is well known for hosting and entertaining visitors. Where that will be 12 to 18 months from now remains to be seen.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.