Written by Ben Cowan-Dewar

When I was on a trip to Vancouver on March 11, I didn’t realize it would be my last trip across Canada, let alone outside of my home base of Toronto for the foreseeable future. The unprecedented changes in the last 12 weeks were a surprise to me, the world and, of course, Canada’s tourism sector.

“We were hit first and we were hit hard—and this of course includes the hotel industry with the sobering fact that Canadian hotel occupancy dipped to a low of 10 per cent in April. There’s no shortage of data that helps us understand the profound and long-lasting impact COVID-19 will have on our industry.”

But despite cancelled flights, deferred hotel stays and boarded-up businesses, it’s clear the tourism sector hasn’t given up. We’re strong but, more importantly, we’re resilient. We’ve seen examples of this resiliency through the stories of connection and kindness in the news, as well as from our home offices at Destination Canada, through the questions and dialogue in our ongoing industry webinars.

To leverage this sentiment, we’re putting our resources towards helping operators during this time and determining what needs to happen as the industry prepares to return to business — whatever that may look like.

Our response to COVID-19 at Destination Canada is encapsulated in a strategy called “Navigating the New Normal.” This approach focuses on three main components — response, recovery and resilience — to help us navigate through the first global pandemic to occur in the age of the smartphone and heightened connectivity. We’re currently in the “Response” phase of this three-stage approach and though we’ve roughly charted-out the timeline, we all know the situation is changing daily. This means we’ll need to be flexible, as much of our work will be dependent on signs of recovery, but we’ve made specific projections to guide us.

Renewed Research
To help us better understand the impact of COVID-19 and make evidence-based decisions to inform our strategy and work, we’ve collated and undertaken new research. As part of our mandate at Destination Canada, we provide intelligence, tools and insights to support our tourism partners and the sector at large. Though international research has typically been our main output, we’ve now refined our focus and are working on data that explores the impact of COVID-19 on the industry internationally and at home. The goal is to help quantify the impacts of the pandemic, while also looking at aspects that are unquantifiable, such as long-lasting changes in consumer behaviour.

Along with this, we’ve leveraged a partnership with Google and other stakeholders to develop a signals framework to help us understand sentiment in the travel landscape and better inform the timeline of the latter two phases of our strategic framework.

Support for Industry
Through the sharing of research and resources, and by establishing frequent touchpoints (webinars), we’re working with industry to determine our path forward. This means we’re spending our time not only planning, but also listening. We’re listening to the differing needs of our partners and the thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across the country. Not everyone was impacted in the same way, therefore our focus is on aligning and directing industry and tourism businesses to the resources that are most needed. We’ve created a portal for information on our corporate website, are publishing a weekly industry newsletter, DC News, and have included travel guidance on our consumer-facing platforms.

We remain positive, pragmatic and empathetic to the very real challenges our sector is facing. Together, we’ve already shown how we’re able to come together and I look forward to this continued collaboration as we re-build and re-establish what normal looks like for our teams and travellers around the world.

Since my last trip in March, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the warm and welcoming people and places for which Canada is known for. I know that as we work through our phased recovery plan and getting heads in beds again, we’ll continue to be lifted up by the resiliency of the tourism sector, while showing the world what we mean by “Canada. For Glowing Hearts.”


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