Hitting the road this long weekend? Here's what to expect

·3 min read
If you're planning a long-weekend getaway — perhaps to majestic Niagara Falls — tourism experts in Ontario say you should prepare for crowds and lineups but also a warm welcome from hard-hit business owners. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters - image credit)
If you're planning a long-weekend getaway — perhaps to majestic Niagara Falls — tourism experts in Ontario say you should prepare for crowds and lineups but also a warm welcome from hard-hit business owners. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters - image credit)

It's the first long weekend in Ontario since the province entered Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, and if you're hitting the road, what should you expect?

According to those with keen knowledge of the tourism industry, it's worth preparing for a bit of crowding and longer-than-usual lineups — but also a warm welcome from hard-hit business owners.

"We are just coming out of probably the most severe episode of business interruption that our industry has ever experienced," said Christopher Bloore, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

"We are noticing that there are some very long lines for people to be able to get onto ferries, to get onto tour boats, to get into restaurants. And some people are finding that the hotels or B&Bs they want to visit have been booked for some weeks."

Pandemic has been 'pretty catastrophic'

Ontario's tourism industry was devastated by COVID-19, with Bloore noting the average business in the sector saw revenues decline 70 per cent. More than half of those businesses, he added, now have at least $100,000 in debt that didn't exist pre-pandemic.

A provincial tourism task force has already issued a report with 10 key recommendations aimed at rebuilding the sector, including branding 2021 as the "Year of the Staycation."

Given the "pretty catastrophic" impact of COVID-19, Bloore says tourism-focused businesses are eager, even desperate, to welcome customers back.

But with many still trying to hire back staff — and some reopening this weekend for the first time in months — he advised those customers to make reservations, check for adjusted hours, and generally take any hiccups in stride.

"We're asking people to be patient, to be kind, and just plan their visit as much as they can," Bloore said.

WATCH: Head of Tourism Industry Association of Ontario asks for kindness:

Hotel prices 'pretty attractive'

For last-minute travelers who haven't booked a place to stay, they should generally be fine — with a few caveats.

In the nation's capital, hotel occupancy rates in the downtown will likely be in the 80 per cent range Saturday night and closer to 70 per cent on Sunday night, said Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

"[The industry] is much better than a few months ago, for sure. Is it back where we need to be, like the 2019 numbers? Not even close," said Ball.

"But there's a real taste or a sense of recovery. And the hoteliers I'm speaking with [say] there's lineups at the front desk again and there's activity on the property. And it's just a sense of normalcy and well-being."

Prices remain "pretty attractive," Ball said, given the demand remains significantly lower than what it was pre-pandemic.

That said, resort destinations like Montebello, Que., have seen business come back the swiftest, and Ball said anyone hoping for a more luxurious weekend getaway should definitely call ahead.

Bloore said some Ontario hotels and B&Bs are also offering "generous incentives" to attract travelers, while a small number may be actually increasing prices to account for "18 months of almost zero revenues."

"I think if people check before they leave, they should have a good idea of what's available," said Bloore.

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