Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

With concerns about the pandemic now in the past, how is the 2023 summer tourism season shaping up?

 

According to a report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario released in December of 2022, it was stated that the province’s tourism industry was not fully expected to recover from the pandemic until 2025.

 

 

We reached out to Explore Waterloo Region CEO Michele Saran to get a sense of what the summer tourism season may be bring locally:

 

Q. How much does tourism contribute to our local economy?

 

A. Tourism is big business.  Over 5 million visitors come to our region annually, injecting more than 557M into the economy.  Tourism is also a catalyst for trade.  People may come to our area for a staycation, sporting event or a business meeting and may like what they see and choose to move here, invest here, or send their kids to school at one of our fabulous academic institutions.  Places that are great for visitors are also great for residents.  Everyone wants to live in a place with wonderful restaurants, retail, and attractions as well as nature.

 

Q. What is your prediction for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region? Better than last year?

 

A. I predict Waterloo Region will have a strong summer season in 2023 surpassing 2022.  It seems that any lingering concerns about COVID are now mostly gone, and Explore Waterloo Region is launching our promotional campaign as early as possible this year. Many people are looking for getaway options closer to home considering inflation etc.  Given a full 96% of visitors to the Region are from other parts of Ontario, we should be in a good position.

 

Q. What is the driving factor for people to get out and explore this summer?

 

A. For 2023, there is still incredible pent-up demand for travel after the pandemic but the driving factor about destination selection is affordability.  People want to get out and have fun, authentic experiences but cost may force many to explore options closer to home.  Luckily, we have those kinds of experiences in abundance in Waterloo Region!

 

Q. Are ‘staycations’ still as popular or are people ready to explore even further this year?

 

A. Search analytics show people are definitely ready to travel internationally but the high cost of air travel and media reports of airport congestion and other challenges are mitigating factors when it comes to actually booking.  “Staycations” are always popular with our target market in Ontario.  Easy getaways that are close to home and affordable.

 

Q. Do labour shortages continue to persist in the hospitality and tourism industry and if so, will it have an impact this summer?

 

A. There are 80% more job openings in our sector now than in 2019.  In fact, of the almost 2000 open positions in Waterloo Region in Q1 of 2023, almost half were tourism related.  That said, our industry is nothing if not adaptable and resilient.  Businesses may have to modify their opening hour and job duties may shift to encompass a broader array of tasks, but everyone is motivated to take advantage of the pandemic winding down.

 

Q. What are people looking for this year when it comes to spending money on tourism, considering the higher cost of living?

 

A. People are leaning into the idea of the “road trip” with friends or family to save money which is exactly how we are marketing to the GTA.  We are positioning Waterloo Region as the ultimate road trip destination with something for everyone.  Cities on the edge on the nature; authentic cultural experiences and incredible farm-to-fork, culinary options.

 

Q. How has Explore Waterloo Region been preparing for the 2023 summer season?

 

A. All throughout 2022 Explore Waterloo Region has been actively working on product development.  We have been looking to leverage our tourism icons and create packages that will make people want to stay longer in our area and spend more. 

This year we will offer some incredible experiences on the Grand River that feature overnight luxury glamping and indigenous-themed feasts; we have another package that celebrates our amazing “farm to fork” culinary offerings where one can have an al fresco dining experience in a beautiful orchard; there will also be a curated Oktoberfest experience that allows one to really see the best of the best of that festival and it includes a luxury hotel stay.  All these experiences will be marketed on www.explorewaterloo.ca and via our aforementioned “road trip” campaign on our social channels.

In terms of our efforts in Business Events and Sport hosting, we always encourage delegates to add on a leisure visit pre or post to make the most of their time in Waterloo Region.

 

Q.  What are a few of the ‘must see’ attractions in our Region this summer?

 

A. There are so many options for people this summer!  Of course, all our annual festivals are back – Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, Bluesfest, the Waterloo Busker Carnival and Downtown Kitchener and Cambridge both have Ribfests -to name just a few!

For those that want to get outside and be active, there are some wonderful opportunities to Canoe the Grand with Grand River Experiences or explore on horseback.   We also have over 500 km of trails in the Region.  One can hike or cycle them.  Explore Waterloo Region has partnered with Zeitspace on a new cycling app that is hyper-local and will let you plan your route by level of difficulty.  It also layers on all the bike-friendly, certified businesses along the way!

Canada Day offers up the Stihl Timbersports Rookie Championships at Bingemans and Cambridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary at the “Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day” event.

For those seeking a bit of culture, The Neebing Art Fair will be returning to Bingemans showcasing incredible indigenous art.  Of course, St. Jacobs always has something going on and it’s a great launching point to get out and do a farm gate tour through the townships to buy the best in local produce and get a sense of our wonderful Mennonite community.

People can always check out our events calendar at www.explorewaterloo.ca for more detail and options.

 

 

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The weather may be colder, but things are heating up fast when it comes to the winter tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

In fact, tourism spending in Canada in general is expected to recover quicker than anticipated according to Destination Canada’s latest tourism outlook which is predicting a return to 2019 levels by 2024, up from 2025 as predicted last spring. As well, the report indicates Canada’s tourism sector could generate more than $142 billion by 2030 which represents a 35% growth over the next decade.

 

This doesn’t come as a surprise to Explore Waterloo Region CEO Michele Saran, noting that domestic travel has recovered much quicker than international visits.

 

“When you’re talking about Waterloo Region, keeping in mind we receive 96% of our visitations from the GTA, we expect to be fully recovered here to 2019 levels by 2023,” she says. “In fact, we’re almost there now.”

 

Michele credits this local rebound not only on a growing pent-up demand for travel opportunities following pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, but the fact the region has so much to offer.

 

“When you talk about the winter season, in Waterloo Region we always do quite well,” she says. “Interestingly, I’ve never seen a destination that doesn’t take a hit at this time of year except for us, and Christmas really seems to be our ‘thing’.”

 

Michele credits the numerous holiday festivals and activities for providing a major boost to our local tourism and hospitality sector, including Cambridge’s ‘Winterfest’ which offers numerous events and displays until the end of the month, Kitchener’s recent ‘Christkindl Market’ and KWFamous ‘Holiday Pop-Shoppe’, as well as Bingemans’ ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and ‘Gift of Lights’ events.

 

“Everybody (tourism operators) seems very positive about this season,” she says. “And we’ve been doing our Road Trip campaign for the last few months on social media, and we’ve been talking about winter and amplifying all the fabulous things you can do within an easy drive of our target market.”

 

Besides Christmas activities, Michele says Waterloo Region is loaded with a variety of winter attractions such as Chicopee which should be welcoming skiers and tubers soon, as well Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge for walking and cross-country skiing.

 

As well, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada has once again started its plant tours, which provide an inside look at its Cambridge facility via a motorized tram.

 

“Also, St. Jacobs and Elmira are always beautiful and magical places to visit in the winter,” she says, adding Explore Waterloo Region has been encouraging people to utilize the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit. 

 

The credit, which expires at the end of the month, allows Ontario residents to claim 20% of their eligible 2022 accommodation (cottage, hotel, or campground) expenses up to $1,000 as an individual or $2,000 if you spouse, common-law partner, or children, to get back up to $200 as an individual or $400 as a family.

 

“We’re actually lobbying as an industry to keep the tax credit in place for next year as well,” says Michele. “As you know, we were the first industry hit and the hardest hit and the last to recover, so we would love to keep this value added as part of our marketing arsenal.”

 

In terms of any potential threat from what has been dubbed as the ‘tripledemic’ (Flu, RSV and COVID-19), she remains optimistic that local tourism operators are prepared.

 

“I think everyone in the tourism industry is really good at listening to public health recommendations, and because our industry was the first hit, we’ve had to create all different types of scenarios about how to open safely and serve the public,” says Michele. “We’ve become really good at it and have a lot of practice.”

 

Visit Explore Waterloo Region to learn more.

 

A few things to check out:

  • Cambridge Winterfest – runs until Dec. 31 and features light installations and a variety of events in all three downtown cores.
  • Bingemans - Jingle Bell Rock, runs until Jan. 7 and outdoor light displays, surrounding a 40-foot dancing tree illumination. Gift of Lights runs until Dec. 31. Drive through holiday light display featuring over 300 animated and static light displays.
  • KWFamous Holiday Pop-Shoppe - Until Dec. 30 featuring more than 80 local makers and creators taking part at shop located across from Kitchener City Hall.
  • Jakobstettel – Celebrates 170 Years of St. Jacobs, featuring a series of events until Dec. 18.
  • The City of Waterloo hosts  Winterloo on Jan 28, 2023
  • Toyota Plant Tour – a 90-minute tour of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada’s Cambridge facility. Tours currently run Monday to Wednesday.
  • Chicopee 

 

*  With files from the Toronto Star    

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Tired of staring at the same four walls?

                                                

The reality of COVID-19 has clearly altered travel plans for millions of people this summer and for the months to come, but the desire to get away from our day-to-day lives remains strong.

 

“I think there is a pent-up need for people who want to travel,” says Judy Silva-Foye, Branch Manager of Vision Travel Solutions.

 

With more than 30 years experience in the business, Judy has seen it all but says the COVID-19 crisis is something she has never faced before, even taking into account such other health emergencies like SARS, H1N1 and Swine Flu.

 

“We survived 9/11 and thought at that time there wasn’t anything that would look quite as a bad,” she says, noting the shutdown happened in early March marked the first time in 35 years she was forced to lock her office doors. “It felt so surreal.”

 

For Darlene Whipp, office manager at Donaldson Travel, reopening her office to the public in June – by appointment only – was a big step to returning to some sense of normalcy, even though several desks were removed to create safe physical distancing, plexiglass partitions installed and hours of operation shortened. 

 

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of cancellations and rebookings,” she says. “But we are getting a lot more people coming in wanting to travel.”

 

Winter holidays to the Caribbean, which has seen many destinations reopen thanks through various health and safety protocols, have sparked the interest of many travellers looking to get away.

 

“A co-worker of mine just issued tickets for 12 people to travel to the Dominican Republic in January,” says Darlene, adding her office has been keeping close tabs on what is taking place in the Caribbean. “We’ve constantly been taking webinars with the resorts as they go over all their new protocols and what they’ve been doing to make things safe for clients.”

 

Donaldson Travel President Mark Crone says the airlines have also stepped up with many new protocols and recalls a very positive experience he had on a promotional flight in mid-July to Montreal sponsored by Air Canada to showcase their company’s changes to travel industry experts.

 

“I think it’s really reassuring that planes are really being properly cleaned,” he says, adding that loosening restrictions around the 14-day quarantine period in Ontario would be in a major boost and confidence is coming back as more offices reopen. “A few months ago, we were all self-isolating but now I think we just want our freedom. But the big thing is what’s happening in the U.S. and if they could get more control of it (COVID-19) I think that would help the mindset here all that much more.”

 

Keeping that in mind, Judy says travel destinations in Canada has been a wonderful option for those itching to get away, which could include renting an RV.

 

“We’re suggesting to people that now is the time to see your own country,” she says, noting there are many options just within Ontario to provide people a great holiday, such as a wine tour. “I think this opened our eyes that we have to look into our own backyard this year and seeing what we have closer to home.”

 

But for those looking at travelling – for both holiday and personal reasons - to other provinces, or other countries that are allowing Canadian visitors, travel experts say that research is necessary to ensure what guidelines are in place.

 

“We have become quite the experts on where to find information,” says Judy. “Because it’s not just about the country you’re leaving from but the country you’re going to.”

 

Mark agrees and says the amount of information surrounding travel is overwhelming as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

 

“It’s all very fluid, and changes,” he says. “We’re getting creamed with information every day. You have to be on top of it for sure.”

 

That’s why Mark says turning to a travel expert for assistance is very good idea.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone would try to book a trip online if they don’t absolutely understand what’s going on right now,” he says. “There’s certainly a short list of places you can go.”

 

Judy says she is confident the travel industry will survive.

 

“Travel will come back because there is always going to be a desire for travel,” she says. “But will it come back the same? No. It will never be what it was before, just different.”

 

She says the impact of COVID-19 has created a domino effect and has resulted in a global connection towards trying to bring the virus under control.

 

“We don’t all have to have share the same beliefs, but we should all try to end up at the same place,” says Judy.

 

 

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