Tourism is one of the major economic drivers in Northern Ontario with receipts ranking higher per capita than those of other regions in the province and many other provinces in the country. In fact, tourism is the largest employer of young workers in the province.
Destination Northern Ontario’s research shows that 40% of the workforce in the region, as well as one in four businesses, are tourism related. In 2019, tourism receipts accounted for $1.5 billion in spending and contributed $1 billion to Ontario’s GDP.
Weathering Pandemic Challenges
While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the tourism industry for a few years, it did not take long to bounce back in Northern Ontario. The bulk of the industry is once again operating at pre-pandemic levels, though some sectors are still facing challenges. Destination Northern Ontario says that the main challenge is the Resource Based Tourism Sector in the Northwest, but with the removal of U.S. border restrictions in the fall of 2022, we anticipate a sustainable return of American visitors.
Between October 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022, approximately 1,688,383 crossings were made over the Ontario - U.S. land border. The crossings in 2022 are 130% higher than in 2021 and 412% higher than in 2020. Despite the significant increases in crossings in 2022, it remains 30% below the pre-pandemic levels. Fortunately, the shortfall gap continues to narrow.
In Northern Ontario, the accommodation sector is making great strides in terms of occupancy and room revenue, giving the industry hope that 2023 will be an even stronger year. In the rural regions of Northern Ontario, it is anticipated that fixed roof accommodation has experienced a positive 2022, but results will not be known until early 2023 upon completion of Destination Northern Ontario’s rural operator performance survey. Similar to hotels, motels, and cottage rentals, short-term rentals remained strong in 2022 showing double-digit growth in available units from 2021 to 2022.
Destination Northern Ontario says that it will most likely take another two to five years to get the balance sheets back in order. Overall, though, the North looks as though it has done better than most jurisdictions in the country.
Last Season’s Staycation Tax Credit
Last year, the Ontario government unveiled the temporary Staycation Tax Credit for the 2022 season that was designed to help the tourism industry recover from the pandemic slow-down.
The credit provided an estimated $270 million in supports and now is the time for Ontario residents to claim them on their personal Income Tax and Benefit Return for 2022.
To be eligible, receipts must include the following information:
- Location of accommodation
- GST/HST amount paid
- Date of stay
- Name of payer
- An amount that can reasonably be considered the accommodation portion of the stay
Looking Ahead to 2023/2024
As pandemic recovery continues, the tourist demographics are beginning to shift. Destination Northern Ontario predicts that Generation X travellers will start to dominate the travel landscape in the coming decade; with 115 million Generation X travellers worldwide, they are two times more likely to take a leisure trip versus the Baby Boomer generation. The tourism industry needs to take note of this change and make sure that products and experiences are resonating with the younger demographic.
Destination Northern Ontario has transitioned into the post-pandemic period where the organization will focus on recovery and growth, as opposed to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19. They will once again identify and support new opportunities for growth and expansion, develop strategies and support sectors who continue to face unique challenges as a result of the pandemic, re-engage the sector, and address systemic challenges that face Northern Ontario.
Through various programs like Tourism SkillsNet North, the Workforce Development and Industry Training Recovery Project and various courses offered through Tourism Excellence North, Destination Northern Ontario guides workforce development and industry training for tourism operators, employers, communities and destinations, and educators in Northern Ontario through a wide variety of programs.
For more information about Destination Northern Ontario or to learn about tourism in the region, visit them online or call (705) 575-9779.