TORONTO — CATO and its Quebec counterpart, ATOQ, have banded together to seek “urgent action and financial support” for their struggling members.
Both associations – Canadian Association of Tour Operators and Association des Tours Opérateurs du Québec – are asking the federal government to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) at the current level until at least Dec. 31, 2021. The program, along with CERS (Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy), will come to an end on Sept. 25.
CATO and ATOQ operate on a volunteer basis, with owners and senior executives of professional tour companies advocating for support of their industry sector. To highlight their significant contribution to the Canadian economy, and the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on its members, the two associations have released an Economic Impact Assessment Report.
Members of both associations were forced to temporarily and permanently lay off employees when travel came to a halt in March 2020. Women were particularly impacted, with more than 73% of the workforce made up of female employees.
The Report also shows that without the government providing a clear roadmap to recovery, revenue will continue to be 82% below 2019 levels. Compounding the issue is the fact that the average advanced booking is made six months ahead of departure; in Ontario and Quebec, all revenue generated from bookings is held in trust until trips depart. This means companies cannot use these funds to pay wages or travel agent commissions, which typically return millions of dollars to the government through payroll taxes.
Without an extension of CEWS, CATO and ATOQ both say that their segment of the industry will have no choice but to lay off more individuals or permanently let go of employees.
““It is mission critical we receive clear federal guidelines and timelines ahead of international travel resuming. Canadian tour operators need at least six months to prepare and bridge the gap between the opening of international borders and earning any revenue,” said CATO and ATOQ in a joint statement. “Along with securing guests’ accommodations, flights, tour guides, sightseeing excursions and more, they also need to coordinate health and well-being protocols in this new world of travel.
“To avoid prolonged duress for the industry, the government must make known any updated criteria or clear guidelines for easing of travel restrictions and reopening of borders. Millions of Canadians work in tourism-related industries yet tour operator members have not been provided the fundamentals their industry sector needs to survive.”
Brett Walker, CATO Chair, added that while CATO and ATOQ members “truly appreciate” the federal government’s CEWS program and that it has enabled them to retain employees during the pandemic, they were, nonetheless, forced to lay off nearly 30% of their collective workforce.
“We are fighting for our survival. With average advanced bookings made six months prior to departure and borders still closed, there will be little, if any, return to international travel before 2022,” he said. “With CEWS running out, the only means to bridge the gap and save thousands of jobs is for the government to extend CEWS at the current level for our members and those hardest hit until the end of 2021.”
On June 9, the Canadian government announced eased travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians, including the lifting of the mandatory 3-day hotel quarantine starting as soon as early July. However, this will come in phases and will only apply to returning Canadians, essential workers, foreign students and other categories of approved travellers at first.