With changes in pandemic restrictions, many Ontarians are looking to their own backyard for travel opportunities. These changes in tourist travel have had some significant impacts on the tourism industry in Northern Ontario.
Why did you change travel?
Recent research by Karl et. Al (2021) from Annals of tourism research It suggests that not only how we travel has changed, but why we travel has changed as well. Carl et al all point out that interpersonal travel during a pandemic has been increasingly not about the destination, but rather about who’s at that destination: family and friends. In other words, travelers are less motivated to travel somewhere, rather they travel in order to communicate with other people. However, seeing loved ones is not the only factor affecting travel. Currently, awareness of risk also plays an important role in travelers’ decisions.
Not surprisingly, tourists are increasingly looking for “experiences of solitude” that allow them to travel or engage in experiences with their own social bubble, making outdoor travel experiences of paramount importance during the pandemic. More and more people are turning to the great outdoors to experience travel – full campgrounds, crowded marinas, and high traffic on snowmobile trails are just a few examples of the growing interest in outdoor tourism. On the other hand, urban tourism experiences struggle due to the loss of festivals, concerts, conferences, and sporting events.
How tourism operators have adapted during the pandemic
It is not surprising that the tourism industry, like many others, has suffered a loss as a result of the pandemic. As David MacLachlan, executive director of Destination Northern Ontario, notes, “The pandemic continues to take a toll on the tourism industry, an important industry that was hit first, and hardest, and will take the longest to recover.” As a result, many tourism operators have had to adapt their business by directing their marketing to focus on more local travelers and change their operations.
We see it in local restaurants – increased sanitation practices, reduced capacity for customers or the transition from dining to sidewalk. Similar practices have been implemented at many inns and resorts in Northern Ontario, where they have strengthened their cleaning policies to ensure a higher standard, particularly focusing on high focal points.
As Maclachlan comments, “Cleaning and sanitation costs are rising, and companies are reopening additional operating regulations to protect both employees and customers. Customer capabilities are reduced due to social distancing restrictions, making pre-pandemic square meter equations irrelevant.”
A look into the future
The future of tourism in Northern Ontario is there – literally. Outdoor adventure tourism is becoming increasingly popular as tourists look for activities they can enjoy while practicing social distancing. Gradually individuals aspire to reconnect with nature. Research also indicates that the older generation of Zers (individuals aged 6-25) are beginning to emerge as primary travelers, with younger individuals more likely to travel longer distances compared to the older demographic.