In recent months, hotels, attractions and venues across Toronto have been turning purple as part of the #HospitalityStrong campaign in support of the hospitality community, which has been devastated by COVID-19.
I work in the hospitality industry and I’m an avid traveller. Without a doubt, these are the darkest days I’ve ever seen in Canada and around the world. But, I have the same certainty that we’ll see brighter days again. What we’re going through is incredibly tough, but we’ll not only survive it, we’ll come out stronger than ever before — and our incredible, vibrant, diverse country has the opportunity to lead the way.
First, though, there’s a painful, short-term challenge to overcome. As the managing director of The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto, I’ve had to lay off colleagues. It was heart-breaking for them and for me. Hotels have suspended operations and occupancy levels across Canada, and North America, for the hotels that remain open are at a historic low. Restaurants have had to shut their doors, some permanently, and hospitality and tourism professionals are unsure about the future of their businesses and worry about the ongoing well-being of their families.
In the past, societies have been ravaged by global pandemics, world wars and financial crises. And yet, every time we rebuilt, we adapted. We travelled, dined and celebrated again — this time will be no different.
We’re already making the best of a bad situation. Many hospitality operators have adapted to the pandemic and quickly pivoted their full-service operations to offer takeout and pick-up service. Hotels, such as the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, are taking the opportunity to perform public service, making rooms available for doctors and nurses as they quarantine away from their families. Others have offered to serve as places of overflow and quarantine. At The Hazelton and through #HazeltonCares, our team found purpose cooking nutritious meals for healthcare workers and citizens in need.
And, to their great credit — and our industry’s everlasting thanks — our political leadership, working together on all levels, listened and responded with appropriate measures and policies. More help is said to be on the way and, as a member of the Ministerial Advisory Panel for Hotels and Hoteliers, I was able to see firsthand how committed our provincial Minister of Heritage, Sports, Tourism and Culture, Lisa MacLeod is to supporting our industry.
In June, a number of leading organizations in the tourism and travel sector launched the Canadian Tourism Roundtable, a coalition of industry representatives committed to restoring the Canadian hospitality economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, they’re working to point the way for the entire economy to move forward. The roundtable highlighted the following five key next steps: develop clear and uniform standards for safe travel; remove inter-provincial travel restrictions as soon as possible; review the need for the ban on non-essential travel to the United States; carefully ease restrictions on international travel based on progress being made in specific countries and regions, (especially the European Union); and, as is being done in other countries, ease the requirement for a 14-day quarantine on international arrivals unless they are travelling from a high-risk country.
These are the necessary, but reasonable, steps we need to begin rebuilding our hospitality and tourism industries while ensuring traveller safety. Personally, I also believe re-starting our travel economy will require a national strategy for testing, tracking and isolation. This strategy should be one of the priorities the industry should be working toward. As an industry, we were the first to be impacted by this crisis and we’ll probably be the last to recover. Only then, I believe, will we start to rebuild people’s confidence. Confidence is the building block of economic activity.
A co-ordinated marketing campaign effectively communicating our standards and our strategy will be important as well.
During these uncertain times, Canadians are looking for a source of inspiration. Hospitality professionals — as life-loving optimists — are happy to step up and meet that need. We may have taken some of the hardest hits, but I believe our solidarity, our camaraderie and our ingenuity can show our city, our country and the entire world the way forward.
So, let’s continue to be confident in our future. Hospitality and travel are resilient. Iron tough. We’ll be back, stronger than ever — and we will travel again.