COVID-19 pandemic costs tourism sector in GTA $14 billion

Cyclists negotiate a road crossing on a bike path in Toronto on Saturday, May 23, 2020. Warm weather and a reduction in COVID-19 restrictions has many looking to the outdoors for relief. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Stay-at-home orders, closed borders and lockdowns have decimated the tourism industry and Toronto, which is usually a destination for many, has been particularly hard hit.

With no festivals, concerts or sporting events to go to it's estimated the tourism losses to the Toronto economy is $8.35 billion.

That number jumps to $14 billion for the greater Toronto region.

“Unfortunately the numbers weren't that big a surprise because we have seen first hand the enormous reduction in visitor arrivals because the borders are closed, people are not traveling, there are stay at home orders and lockdowns," said Andrew Weir with Destination Toronto, which conducted the study.

Conventions have been canceled, concerts have been postponed and hotel rooms sit empty. 

Tourism officials are trying to remain optimistic but the industry says it was the first to be hit hard by the pandemic and will likely be the last to recover.

The tourism group says the pandemic has had a devastating affect on visitor spending with losses of $1.67 billion, food and beverage sales $1.3 billion, accommodations $1.2 billion and entertainment $707 million. 

380,000 people who would normally attend conventions and meetings in the city didn't show up in 2020. The tourist group says when even when one person visits Toronto it creates a ripple affect in the economy.

“They may be at the convention centre from 9 to 5, but they may go to a restaurant, a club or go see a concert or go to the theatre. They may also invite their family to join them on the weekend to see some attractions,” said Weir. 

The Greater Toronto Hotel Association said at one point 65 hotels in Toronto were completely shut down. 

Association president Terry Mundell said “hotels are just under 80 per cent empty.” 

Mundell believes there is pent up demand for people to return to tourist attractions, festivals and take in a sporting event, but the group says people will need to feel confident that it's safe to travel. 

“As more needles go in people's arms, more businesses get opened and more borders get opened up things will improve. We just need to hang in there and we need more government support," said Mundell.

Tourism officials said with $14 billion taken out of the economy it's a reminder to governments just how much tax revenue is generated by the tourism sector.

The hotel association says there is a long road ahead and doesn't believe the hotel sector will turn a profit this year or next year and says it might be 2023 or 2024 before things return to normal.