TORONTO — With much of Ontario now moving into Stage Three, last week Destination Toronto — formerly Tourism Toronto — hosted a webinar assessing the path to re-opening.

The webinar kicked off with an information session by Janet Sellery of Sellery Health + Safety, as well as a panel discussion with five hospitality-industry leaders, including Vito Curalli, executive director, International Sales & Industry Relations, Hilton Hotels; Lisa Clements, Chief, Communications & Brand, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO); David Hopkins, consultant, The Fifteen Group; Mike Bartlett, VP, Community Affairs, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE); and Ron Pellerine, general manager, Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Andrew Weir, vice-president of Marketing, Destination Toronto, moderated the session with the intent to provide insights as to what businesses are doing to prepare for the transition to Stage Three.

Providing an overview of resources available to operators, Sellery spoke about the importance of following protocols to ensure a smooth transition. She stressed the likelihood that events will be a scratch for 2021 and probably won’t return for another year and a half. Exacerbating the challenge is the possibility that a second wave of COVID-19 will occur, she said, as well as the possibility that another pandemic could surface in short order. “You need to be ready to pivot to smaller groups,” she added.

“Our priorities need to be, first and foremost, to keep our workers healthy and safe and that will lead us to create tourism environments where guests feel confident to return,” said Sellery, adding “When I talk about a social contract, it’s not something written by lawyers, it’s something all of us agree to do — that we will take certain precautions to protect all of us.”

With most of Ontario now moving to Stage Three, Sellery told the audience that businesses can increase their inside gatherings to 50 people and outside to 100. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said, adding, “When you’re hosting an event, you have an obligation to make sure those gathering limits, and physical distancing, can be maintained.”

Sellery also stressed that regardless how big your venue is, that same limit still applies, with the exception of drive ins, which are not restricted.

Sellery’s consultancy has introduced risk-assessment tools to help identify the various risks for business. “It’s unique to your business and you can scale up or down, as needed,” she said, referencing other toolkits being made available by groups such as the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) and Destination Canada. “We’re going to have to continue to adapt to make everyone feel safe,” she suggested.

For Toronto’s AGO, the re-opening process has been gradual. “Since July 2, the AGO opened its doors. We started planning five weeks before we re-opened,” said Clements from the AGO, who explained the initial opening was geared for members and annual-membership holders only. She added that, as of this week, the gallery will be open to all.

Still, it’s not business as usual. “It’s time ticketed,” said Clements, explaining that, as a guest, you cannot visit without a ticket. “That way we have your information for contact tracing; it ensures we have a limited number of people in the gallery at a time and it controls our lineup. We’re allowing 150 people per hour, a reduction from the gallery’s typical capacity of 500.” The gallery also requires everyone to wear a mask, printed maps are no longer allowed and foodservice for packaged foods will resume next week.

At Hilton, though many of its hotels remained open during the pandemic, housing frontline workers, medical staff or those who needed to quarantine, in recent weeks, the hotel has shifted back to more of a traditional hotel environment but “with new norms,” said Curalli. “The hotels are open, what’s not open is the F&B side.” Signage and plexiglass barriers are among the biggest differences spurred by COVID-19, but a necessary change to ensure physical distancing.

Though the Scotiabank Arena is technically open, it’s not open in the traditional way, said Bartlett, of MLSE. “We’re open for skating but not open for business,” he said, pointing out that retail units are open, as are restaurants providing curbside pickup. But, he says, having a patio wasn’t an option for the arena due to construction in the area. “Now we have this opportunity to bring hockey back to town as part of a hub city…We’re getting tested daily and it’s a whole new reality.”

Bartlett explained that so much had to be discussed with different government departments to ensure the company adhered to its various protocols and guidelines, adding the NHL had more stringent guidelines in place with regard to restaurant seating then even the province did.

Re-opening has taken on an entirely new meaning for the mammoth Metro Toronto Convention Centre. “We’ve been sourcing product, getting our signage ready…all that sort of [procedures],” said Pellerine. “The 50-person gathering [limit] will allow us to re-open, if we so choose, once Toronto is allowed to, but again, that limits us to only 50 people and thus our size doesn’t warrant opening for one 50-person meeting. We’re spending a lot of time with our clients: planning, organizing events for the future and what that might look like…right now we’re sitting dormant but working a lot behind the scenes,” said Pellerine.

As for the future, Weir asked the panel which innovation or changes spurred by this pandemic might become part of standard operating procedures once the pandemic is over. According to The Fifteen Group’s Hopkins, “we’re being conditioned now to be cleaner; that will last into the future.”

Curalli agreed, saying Hilton’s new rollout of a cleaning program “will stick around for a long, long time.”

At MLSE, Bartlett says the arena is “Prepping for, when we do have fans in the building, to be entirely cashless. While we were seeing a trend with our fans going that route with Apple Pay or Tap and Pay, we will be moving to an entirely cashless concession,” he said, adding “electronic tickets are here to stay; paper tickets and the handing of tickets — those types of practices are probably gone for good.”


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