Pandemic, Labour Shortage Facing Simcoe County Tourism Sector


Ian MacLennan Published: Jul 18th, 2022 5:38pm

Challenges are on the horizon as the County of Simcoe begins work on a Tourism Destination Development Plan (TDDP). This plan will steer the County of Simcoe’s tourism role and responsibilities for the next three to five years and is focused on promoting Simcoe County as a first-class travel destination.

Many things have changed in the tourism industry since a 10-year tourism strategic plan was developed by the county in 2011.

The county’s tourism manager, Kathryn Stephenson, says the industry was decimated by the pandemic. While there is no hard data available at the county level, Stephenson says stakeholders were forced to adapt.

“Many pivoted and are seeing some success, some have closed because of COVID, and others did not survive,” she says.

Stephenson notes it has been a double whammy for tourism operators.

“The other thing is the labour force,” she says. “There was a labour shortage prior to COVID, and in the tourism business, the labour shortage is at a crisis.”

“We have very passionate owner-operators in Simcoe County, and they are doing everything to keep their businesses going, including cleaning rooms, doing dishes, serving in dining rooms.”

Stephenson says things have changed permanently in tourism as a result of COVID-19 and together stakeholders and consultants will look at how to move forward and how to remain competitive.

“Staycations have always been very important in tourism. Simcoe County is a four-season destination,” says Stephenson. “We have a very healthy winter product with snow sports, a ton of outdoor recreation, maple syrup in the spring, and we have fall colours and studio tours, and it’s important we market to our residents.”

COVID has put a greater emphasis on staycations.

“At the time we stopped promoting outside of Simcoe County, which is normally what we do, heavily promoting in the GTA and southwestern Ontario,” says Stephenson. “But we put a halt on during COVID.”

Stephenson says they heavily promoted local shopping campaigns and the outcome of that has been the build-up of a lot of great relationships.

“That’s one of the things born out of COVID,” she explains. “That’s not going away, even though we always did promote local, we often didn’t spend marketing dollars necessarily within Simcoe County. But we have started doing that because we realized that it’s an important part to keep our tourism businesses thriving and to make sure that actual residents within the area are enjoying it as well as visitors.”

The goal is to complete the TDDP by the end of the year and then present it to county council for approval.

Patricia Dent

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