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Coronavirus: Tourism in Peterborough and the Kawarthas likely to take major hit this summer

Coronavirus: Peterborough area tourism likely to take major hit in 2020
With many events already cancelling this year due to COVID-19 concerns, 2020 will likely go down as one of the worst years for the tourism industry in Peterborough and the Kawarthas. Mark Giunta reports.

Three million people visit Peterborough and the Kawarthas annually, according to numbers released in 2019 by Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development.

That represents more than $300 million of economic revenue annually, while Northumberland Tourism reports $120 million in tourism dollars each year.

But many events, including fairs in Millbrook, Norwood, Lakefield and Port Hope, as well as the Cobourg Waterfront Festival, have already been cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s illustrative of how serious we need to take this,” said Peterborough County warden J. Murray Jones.  “The Norwood Fair puts so much work into this all through the year, and spend so much money into the next fair. They’ve seen the reality and cancelled it. I hope everyone sees this and takes it seriously.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Premier Doug Ford urges city residents to stay out of cottage country on Easter weekend

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On Thursday, the province announced a new Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee that will focus on the recovery of business and industry post-COVID-19.

The Ontario Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 is a $17-billion funding package for families and a variety of sectors in the province, which includes tourism. Small and medium-sized businesses can also tap into a provincial and federal loan program worth $40 billion.

“I can assure each person affected by this crisis, that we will do everything we can to support you, and get you back on the job as soon as possible,” Premier Doug Ford on Thursday.  “While our government battles this virus, members of our new Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee will roll up their sleeves and develop a roadmap to a stronger and more prosperous economy.”

“COVID-19 has had a dramatic and severe impact on the tourism industry in every corner of our province. We know from our own comprehensive consultations with our members on the front line that businesses are closing, revenues have fallen off a cliff, staff are being laid off and seasonal businesses will not open in the summer,” stated Beth Potter, President and CEO of Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO).

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TIAO estimates a GDP contribution of $36 billion and an annual tax revenue of $5 billion by the tourism sector.

“The short-term impacts of COVID-19 will be significant and long lasting,” added Potter.

“The measures that have been announced by government, whilst welcome, are not reaching the front lines fast enough and the eligibility criteria means some will not receive the support they had expected or hoped for.”

TIAO has developed its own response for economic recovery plan and among several points is suggesting the government allow seasonal tourism businesses be eligible to claim the 75% wage subsidy through the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

It’s also asking the province amend the Ontario Employment Standards Act to extend the layoff period from 13 weeks to a minimum of 26 weeks.   The Act currently states an employee, who is not called back after 13 weeks, is considered terminated.

“The actions we take now will define what our tourism industry looks like post-COVID-19, and to what extent tourism in Ontario can compete with our national and international competitors during an anticipated recovery period,” stated Potter.”

The Trent-Severn Waterway, which is tentatively slated to open for the recreational navigation season on May 15, is one of the major tourism drivers for the region.

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But officials there tell Global News there is a chance that date will be pushed back.

A shortened or cancelled boating season will have a major impact on communities along the waterway, including Buckhorn, Ont.

“That is the name of the game for us,” said Janet Clarkson, mayor of the Municipality of Trent Lakes. “We don’t have service land or industrial land. We are tourism and service-related.

“Our businesses have July to October to make a year’s income. If they lose that income, they can’t make it up in the winter. They’re virtually without an income for the year.”

READ MORE: City of Kawartha Lakes ‘certainly not inviting’ visitors amid coronavirus pandemic: mayor

Many seasonal services and amenities have been closed in the City of Kawartha Lakes until the early summer.

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While it hasn’t made any layoffs yet, the municipality is looking at the possibility of not needing its summer seasonal employees.

“We have a robust summer student program. At this point, we’ve looked at suspended services until June 30. We’ve looked at our employer decisions accordingly,” said CAO Ron Taylor. “As of today, we continue to suspend any recruitment for any student positions throughout the year.”

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A Twitter message from the Lindsay Ex, which runs Sept. 23 to 27, states officials are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying “it’s too soon to know what the summer is going to bring and there’s no way to predict what conditions will look like in September.”

The International Plowing Match and Rural Expo, which will be held at the Lindsay Exhibition Grounds and at area farms Oct. 14 to 17, is still going ahead at this point.

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“At this time, we have no intentions to cancel or postpone the 2020 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo,” read a statement from the Ontario Plowmen’s Association. “We will continue to follow the instructions and guidance of public health officials at all levels of government and will provide an immediate update, if anything changes.”

Officials with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development weren’t available for comment on the Easter holiday Monday.

However, Global News Peterborough has learned the tourism department is working on an economic recovery plan that should go before councils in Peterborough city and county later this month.

Global News Peterborough has contacted organizers with the Peterborough Exhibition and will update this story when a response is given.

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