We Need Your Help

Attractions helping attractions

I'd  like to introduce myself.  My name is Troy Young, and I have been the CEO of Attractions Ontario for the past 16 years.  Attractions Ontario was formed in 1983 by several tourism attractions to better collaborate and market their interests.

I’m writing to you today for two reasons.  The first is the inadequate response to date by the federal government to discuss the specific concerns of the tourism industry, in particular how it relates to the attractions sector.  As we know, attractions are the demand generators for tourism as they are what consumers use to make their eventual decision on choosing a destination to visit.  For our recovery plans to work, in order for us to attract visitors from afar, to fill our hotels and take advantage of our transportation options, we need a strong attractions and festivals sector.

Federal emergency funding has fallen short in aiding our members through COVID-19.  Here in Ontario, we have over 6,300 arts, entertainment and sports businesses that act as the primary drivers of tourism, employing over 158,000 Ontarians.  95% of these businesses are small to medium enterprises, with less than 100 employees.  50% of our attractions are at risk of closing permanently.  While the absolute numbers may differ in your jurisdiction, the end result will be the same; without these SMEs, our destinations will have nothing to market and have very little to contribute to the country’s economic recovery.

This is perishable revenue our businesses are losing; it is not recoverable tomorrow.  Even once we reopen our economy, they will be at risk of not being viable as international tourists will take time to return.  The rest of the world is in a similar situation and competition for the few travelers willing to leave their countries will be fierce.

The current measures that the federal government has provided to business are not proving to be adequate for the attractions sector.

  • 75% wage subsidy: many of our members have laid off all but the most essential staff.  This subsidy is too little to make an impact for them.
  • Canadian Business Assistance Program: these interest-free loans are appreciated, but they are causing small businesses to take on added debt to cover their fixed operating costs at a time when they have no revenue.  This will prolong the recovery of these businesses.
  • Tax deferrals: While the tax deferrals were welcomed, the bill will become due just as we open our seasons.
  • Rent assistance: While this could be a major benefit to our members that rent locations, again it was too long in coming.  We advocated for this two weeks prior to rent being due on April 1; the federal announcement coincided with the same day the landlords in Ontario could legally lock businesses out for unpaid rent.  There has been no provincial moratorium on commercial evictions.

We need a federal recovery program specific to tourism.  Apart from the health care sector, tourism is the industry that has been affected the most due to COVID-19, and will be one of the last to recover.  Attractions Ontario has raised this issue with TIAC, but I believe we need more voices across the country echoing this sentiment.  I have spoken on this issue with Beth Potter, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (I am a former Chair of the Board of Directors of TIAO) and we are in agreement.  I am now reaching out to leaders in other provinces to get them to add their voices to our need.

This additional federal recovery program needs to specifically address tourism attractions.  While the recent announcement of $500 million to the arts, culture and sport will assist some of my members at Attractions Ontario, not all will be covered by it.  We will need more if our industry is to survive.

At greatest risk is our seasonal attractions.  Given the brief window of their operating season, it may get to the point soon that it is not financially practical to open this season at all.  Many may never reopen.

The second reason for my email today is I have been appointed by Minister Lisa MacLeod to co-chair the economic recovery panel for Attractions and Events here in Ontario.  As we develop a recovery plan I thought I would reach out to you and see what plans your province may have in place relating to protocols around reopening, continued social distancing, and any aid programs your provincial government may put into place.  I would appreciate any information you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to read my plea.  I look forward to connecting with you on these two topics.

Your partner in tourism,

Troy Young, CEO

Attractions Ontario