In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Christopher Bloore joined the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) after spending 15 years serving at the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. Last month, Bloore took the reins as president and CEO of TIAO and is now leading the tourism industry into recovery.
“In a sense, I’m fortunate that I’ve been with TIAO for the majority of the pandemic in a vice-president position of Policy and Government Affairs. I have intimate knowledge about the struggles of COVID-19 from the beginning in March last year,” says Bloore. “I have a great team and I’ve established great working relationships with many leaders and thought provokers in the industry. We have a collaborative approach across the industry, working together with common goals, and being one of the voices for issues affecting the industry has been beneficial for us to get our message across to the government.”
TIAO is the leading voice of Ontario’s tourism industry, representing 180,000 tourism businesses and 372,000 employees. The association is recognized by the provincial government and plays a vital role in supporting the growth of the industry.
For the next few months, Bloore is focusing on three main priorities: prolonging financial support from the government, encouraging provincial travel and re-opening the Canada-U.S. border. TIAO, as well as its partner organizations, are calling on the government to keep current financial supports in place for the tourism industry while they’re still operating under COVID-19 restrictions. Collectively, travel organizations are demanding an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), which are set to expire on July 4, to continue supporting the highly affected tourism industry.
“For the last 16 months, our industry has been shunned, so we need to make sure those economic supports from the federal level remain in place while our recovery is a slow one,” says Bloore.
He says if the rent and wage subsidies expire, most tourism businesses will struggle to keep paying staff and will consider closing indefinitely, noting it’s essential for employers and workers in the tourism sector to have access to these programs in order to re-start the economy and prevent further losses.
Resuming travel within Ontario is another critical part of the sector’s recovery. Recently, the border restrictions in Ontario were lifted with Manitoba and Quebec, allowing people to enter Ontario freely, and Bloore says the pent-up demand among locals for restaurants, attractions and nightlife will help fuel a recovery once more restrictions start to lift in the second and third stages of re-opening.
“We need to encourage and incentivize people to travel safely within Ontario,” says Bloore. “We entered into stage one early, and I’m hopeful that we’ll also move into the second and third stage quicker. As long as everyone continues to follow proper rules and regulations provided by health officials, then we’ll be able to enjoy provincial travel sooner.”
Moreover, Bloore says many tourism businesses in Ontario rely on American travellers using their services, so re-opening the Canada-U.S. border is necessary to maintain an upward trajectory.
“We’re fortunate that the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) and some other partner organizations are currently working on that,” says Bloore. “We’re also working on a campaign launch for the border re-opening because we’re winning the war against COVID-19, so we need a plan in place to recruit staff and be fully prepared for what’s to come.”
In terms of long-term goals, Bloore will continue to collaborate with non-traditional allies, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), to stay on top of policy and economic decision making affecting the industry as a whole.
“Tourism is such an important part of our economy,” says Bloore. “Right now, it’s a sleeping giant. We contribute about $36 billion in economic activity in Ontario and we’re responsible for more than half a million jobs, and at the onset of the crisis, we lost a lot of jobs and economic activity. So, I really want us to continue to be at the forefront of these economic discussions and advocate for the sustainability of the tourism industry as it’s an integral part of our economy.”
In addition, Bloore calls attention to the long-term issues and barriers to tourism growth in Canada. He’s actively trying to improve transportation, infrastructure, climate change and housing, which, combined with the pandemic, can have a deep impact on the industry.
“I can’t wait to start talking about these issues again because they were important even before the crisis. Infrastructure, climate change, transportation and housing, and critically analyzing where our work falls short is going to be something that TIAO dives into to help re-build the industry,” says Bloore.
Bloore is confident the industry will make a full recovery, although it will take about three to five years to return to pre-COVID-19 levels. Ontario has so much to offer and TIAO is working diligently to re-build confidence with consumers and encourage them to take advantage of new experiences.
“I’m confident that if we get the marketing right and we’re able to build trust and confidence with consumers, both in Canada and internationally, we can certainly get back to those pre-COVID-19 levels,” says Bloore. “It’s going to be a long journey, but I’ve witnessed so much innovation within our industry over the last 16 months and I know that when pressed with this challenge we’ll be able to succeed.”
Bloore pays tribute to all of the industry leaders, from operators and restaurant owners to associations and government representatives that have supported the industry since the COVID-19 pandemic shook the industry.
“As we come out of this crisis ready to meet the pent-up demand for travelling, we’re here for you to help with the recovery process. There might be some false starts, but we’re going to be there to represent you to make sure that you have every tool available to you to get back to what we all do best which is providing first-class experiences to tourists and visitors in Ontario,” says Bloore. “I want our members to stop hearing from me as much because I want them to be in a position where they can just get on with their businesses without restrictions. I’m incredibly grateful for their ongoing collaboration, patience and support.”
By Nicole Di Tomasso