Ontario's hard hit hotel industry hopes for recovery amid pandemic

The hotel industry was one of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and this past spring, 80 per cent of hotel rooms in the Greater Toronto Area sat empty and 65 hotels were completely closed.

As more people are vaccinated and travel restrictions are lifted, visitors are slowly returning to hotels for business and tourism purposes.

“Most of the hotels that were closed in the past have re-opened,” Terry Mundell, CEO of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, said.

Mundell said while the hotels have been missing out on conventions and major events, as the border re-opens to American visitors and international travel restrictions are lifted, some business travel is starting to return.

“We are getting meetings and events coming back, but it's slow and generally smaller groups,” Mundell said. “We are in better shape than we were last year, but clearly we have a long way to go."

As hotels get ready to welcome back visitors, it's also dealing with a severe staff shortage.

“We lost a significant amount of workers when travel ground to a halt and many of the workers did transition into other sectors and we are aggressively trying to recruit them back, but the demand (for hotel stays) just hasn't been there," Susie Grynol, CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, said.

Grynol said she believes the hotel sector will begin a more robust recovery starting in the spring of next year. The group says nationally occupancy rates are down about 50 per cent from 2019 pre-pandemic levels and believes vaccine passports will give visitors more confidence to travel.

“Vaccine passports are going to allow for the movement of people and allow people to feel safe so we do support them. We do hope there is not a different system in every province that makes it difficult for people to move around," Grynol said.

The return of sporting events, festivals and concerts will also help the hotel industry return to pre-pandemic occupancy rates.

Both associations feel the fall and winter months will continue to be difficult for the hotel industry, but they're hopeful early 2022 will see the sector start on the road to recovery.

A study by the Destination Toronto in March of this year found the previous 12 months cost the tourism sector in the GTA about $14 billion in lost tourism revenue.