Author: Tourism HR Canada
(OTTAWA, ON—August 4, 2021) Tourism HR Canada today announced the launch of a federally funded Student Work Placement Program offering paid work-integrated learning opportunities in the tourism and hospitality sector.
Called Propel, the new program benefits the full spectrum of the visitor economy as it emerges from the crushing impact of the pandemic. Students gain paid hands-on learning and mentoring in their field of study. Employers acquire much-needed early talent to help with the recovery of the industry, as well as assistance with wages after an 18-month stretch of little or no income. Post-secondary institutions complement their programming by connecting students and the workplace.
“Propel is integral to the recovery and resiliency of Canada’s tourism sector,” stated Philip Mondor, President and CEO of Tourism HR Canada. “Our industry has been left reeling from the measures needed to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. Despite their best efforts, many employers were not able to retain their staff and are facing difficulty rebuilding as restrictions lift. Students have missed out on opportunities to get a foothold in the labour market, build essential social and employability skills, and make meaningful industry connections. Propel creates a direct link between students looking to enhance their workplace skills and employers who can provide that valuable experience while also showcasing the depth and breadth of career pathways in the industry.”
Funded by Employment and Social Development Canada through the Student Work Placement Program, Propel offers employers a wage subsidy of up to 75% of a qualifying student’s wages, to a maximum of $7,500. Students enrolled at a recognized post-secondary institution can apply for a paid position to fulfil the co-op or internship component of their program.
Early adopters of this program include Accor, George Brown College, Ryerson University, and Vancouver Community College.
“It’s been a devastating 18 months for hospitality, but the teamwork and spirit of entrepreneurship that has seen us through is truly inspiring. We are delighted to be part of an initiative that is helping our industry to win and build back stronger and better than before. Just as we are committed to providing unparalleled guest experiences, we are driven to search for diverse talent who want to reach their fullest potential with a rewarding career. I am proof that it is possible to “Be Limitless” with Accor. I started my career over 30 years ago in the laundry room at Accor’s Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and advanced through the business to now lead over 22,000 employees in more than 100 hotels across North & Central America. This program will help to find those passionate individuals who want to be part of an exciting future, and we look forward to welcoming them to our properties in the fall,” said Heather McCrory, CEO North & Central America, Accor.
“Forget the pandemic…the next crisis is already here, and it is the labour gap that we are experiencing in hospitality and tourism,” explained Frederic Dimanche, Director, Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University. “The reputation of our sector has suffered and school enrolments are down. Proactive strategies such as Propel, with efficient and innovative partnerships between the public sector, schools, and industry, are essential to succeed.”
“Our students and community partners in hospitality have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and we know there is uncertainty across the industry as Canada begins its recovery process,” stated Dennis Innes, Dean of Vancouver Community College’s School of Hospitality, Food Studies & Business. “The funding from Employment and Social Development Canada for the Propel program creates opportunities that support students and employers, while also highlighting the importance of paid internships and the value of skilled labour. We are excited to be a part of the launch of this program.”
“We are delighted to have these strategic partners on board to launch this program with us,” said Mondor. “Accor is committed to an innovative training culture, while our postsecondary partners value a blended approach to learning that provides students with a head start on their career goals. We are actively making arrangements with additional institutions and employers across Canada, and we invite all qualifying parties—from small, independent operations to large, multi-property companies—to apply for this timely support for our sector at PropelCareers.ca.”
Canada’s tourism sector has lost over 500,000 jobs from its workforce since the pandemic began. Propel will play a key role in attracting and retaining students to the varied opportunities becoming rapidly available as the economy reopens, supporting a sustainable future for one of Canada’s key economic engines.
About Tourism HR Canada:
Tourism HR Canada is a pan-Canadian organization with a mandate aimed at building a world-leading tourism workforce. It facilitates, coordinates, and enables human resource development activities that support a globally competitive and sustainable industry and foster the development of a dynamic and resilient workforce. The organization works with the industry to attract, train, and retain valuable tourism professionals by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed in their careers and entrepreneurial endeavours. Details on the Propel Student Work Placement Program can be found at PropelCareers.ca.
Accor is a world leading hospitality Group with over 5,100 properties and 10,000 food and beverage venues throughout 110 countries. The Group has one of the industry’s most diverse and fully-integrated hospitality ecosystems encompassing luxury and premium brands, midscale and economy offerings, unique Lifestyle concepts, entertainment and nightlife venues, restaurants and bars, branded private residences, shared accommodation properties, concierge services, co-working spaces and more. Accor also boasts an unrivalled portfolio of distinctive brands and approximately 260,000 team members worldwide. Through its Planet 21 – Acting Here, Accor Solidarity, RiiSE and ALL Heartist Fund initiatives, the group is focused on driving positive action through business ethics, responsible tourism, environmental sustainability, community engagement, diversity and inclusivity. Founded in 1967, Accor SA is headquartered in France and publicly listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange (ISIN code: FR0000120404) and on the OTC Market (Ticker: ACCYY) in the United States. For more information visit group.accor.com or follow Accor on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Heather Elder, Director, Marketing, Tourism HR Canada, email@example.com
By Joe Baker, CEO of Joe Baker & Co. and Tourism HR Canada Board Member
If the first step in solving any problem is to recognize one exists, then the Canadian foodservice industry must first acknowledge that we have a workforce sustainability problem. And while this is a complex and nuanced problem; I do not believe it’s insurmountable.
What will it take to make our workforce sustainable? We recognize the problem, take the time to understand the problem, embrace a willingness to address any underlying causes, and courageously take action towards a new future. You can count on this issue being a recurring discussion in the coming years—perhaps the issue of the current generation of foodservice industry leaders, and a turning point in our industry culture.
To unpack this complex problem, I will offer some insights into potential solutions. Not just from my perspective, but through data sources and a cross-section of experts who have experienced the last several years through a unique set of lenses that can help us see our way to the other side.
Is this a labour shortage?
Experts have identified a labour shortage within Canada’s hospitality and tourism industry. Tourism HR Canada, a pan-Canadian organization with a mandate aimed at building Canada’s tourism workforce, reported that as of 2019, the last full year of employment data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 1.9 million workers across all five segments of the tourism industry in Canada.
Foodservice accounted for a whopping 55 per cent of that workforce, meaning more than 1 million Canadians were working in restaurants and foodservice operations across the country. That same year, Restaurants Canada reported foodservice generated $93 billion in sales. By all measures, Canada’s foodservice industry was thriving and, in a business centred around people, its workforce was delivering results.
Financial sustainability fits centrally into this complex discussion. Embracing a sustainable business model means we need thriving economic activity and healthy businesses that contribute to the well-being of people, communities and our environments. I am not suggesting that any factor of sustainability is any more valuable than the other, but simply taking this moment to connect the drive towards the healthy and resilient economic impact of the foodservice industry to the other important elements. We need a robust foodservice industry so we can achieve our broader sustainability goals.
At the same time that Canada was experiencing a banner year for its foodservice industry-at-large, it was facing an acute and long-lasting skilled labour shortage. There simply were not enough skilled workers to fill the vacant jobs in this sector. This was not just an urban-centred issue. Rural communities across the country were facing the same challenge.
Foodservice businesses were generally experiencing positive revenue trends and yet struggling to find the talent to meet this demand. 2019 estimates ranged from 50,000 to 90,000 Canadian foodservice jobs without workers. And even in 2019, this labour shortage was not a new phenomenon, experts have been observing this trend for as long as 10 years.
So, let’s consult the experts. For such a multifaceted issue I wanted to draw together several unique perspectives in hopes we can identify the issues and create a roadmap forward.
William Murray, assistant professor of hospitality, food and tourism management at the University of Guelph, reports that “Pre-pandemic we were in a difficult spot. The industry was thriving but the number one issue for operators was labour. The data showed us that this was not new. Going back as far as 2010 and stretching as far forward as 2035, we were short by about 10 per cent as in we were only able to staff to about 90 per cent capacity.”
This labour shortage was creating some interesting dynamics and conflicting conditions that were not the same for employees and employers. I spoke to Valerie Upfold, Partner at Profile Hospitality Group, a hospitality industry recruitment firm about what was happening in 2019, who offered: “Before the pandemic, this was an employee market. Frontline to managers and executives had their choice of employers. This was happening for about five years before the pandemic. There were more jobs than people. So, the labour shortage was good for candidates and difficult for employers. The most talented people in our industry were busy in their careers. They weren’t looking for jobs. We were able to find talented people and move them into more progressive roles. It was great for the talented candidates. They really had their choice of employers. But it was difficult for the employers. They were using recruiters because it was so hard to find talent.”
For talented workers, they had a fair amount of choice. And for the employers, they were struggling to find talent. Some were able to use recruiters, but some were not. Many years of a labour shortage started to cause a significant shift in the way some employers were thinking about their workers. “Because of the pressure of finding labour, instead of businesses looking for talent, they were forced to look for bodies. And people became commodities. If we break it down to a transactional supply and demand issue, if we see human resources as transactional, as an employer we also become a commodity. And we lose the people game. Because if the employee believes they are a commodity they will go find an employer who meets their basic needs best instead of their aspirational needs the best,” notes Murray.
One of the interesting sub-groups in this discussion is students. Or more appropriately, recent graduates of hospitality and food programs. You would think that a labour shortage would have caused an obvious and increased demand for newly graduated students as a source of talent. But this wasn’t universally the case. While hard to draw conclusions based on individual college or university situations, the perspective of someone at the centre of the graduate-to-employer connection brings a high-level view of this issue. Nicole Gallace, founder of FoodGrads, an interactive job board for the foodservice and food processing industries shares her perspective. “Before the pandemic It was still difficult for recent graduates to find employment. Even though there was a labour shortage. I think that comes from a lack of HR practices. Since so many food businesses are small businesses, they don’t have HR departments. Even though these employers needed workers and these graduates have the skills, it wasn’t lining up. I always think the system is broken and I am still trying to figure it out. I’ve worked with a lot of employers who are very strict about hiring from the ground up. They are so afraid of hiring talented people who will leave. They would rather take them in with zero qualifications hoping they will stay. Or those who bring qualified people in and make them start at an entry-level which can be hard for motivation.”
The pre-pandemic world from a workforce perspective was not a homogenous experience. It started to drive a wedge between employers and employees. Many employers struggled to find talent and were adopting practices that were not sustainable from a workforce perspective. And the experienced workforce was able to have a lot of choice and even make demands from employers. And at the same time, it remained difficult for a new generation of workforce to enter the industry either with a lack of experience and no formal education or even with a lack of experience and with formal education. All of these factors are important to understand as they were the foundation we were resting on before the COVID-19 pandemic.
What was driving people away from the workforce in the first place?
I asked these three experts this very question and they shared some pretty unified answers.
“The perspective that this is just a numbers game about supply and demand is a little short-sighted. We had 17 million people in the workforce in 2019. Why couldn’t we get them into the hospitality industry? We need to look at the barriers to entry. There are a number of factors that have been systemic in our industry for a long time. These included low wages, long hours, hard work that includes emotional labour,” cites Murray.
“If employees have other options, which they do these days, then negative culture or long hours or low pay cannot sustain their focus. More and more these days, employees want to have flexible jobs and hours and even job locations. It’s not always about salary but that is a significant factor. It is time to listen to what people are saying about what they need. And plan around that,” says Gallace.
“Looking forward we need to address the basic things we have known for years. Pay is something that has to change. I know restaurants don’t have much wiggle room, so I know it isn’t easy. But maybe it’s time to look at creative options like a four-day workweek,” reflects Upfold. “A lot of it is the combination of pay, hours and the mindset of the hours. If pay is low and hours are long, employees feel even less valued. We really need to look at flexible schedules so we can keep talented people. Benefit plans are becoming more important.”
Many research studies have been conducted and these factors play a significant role in keeping potential talent out of the foodservice workforce. Pay, benefits and access to career planning consistently float to the top of the list. But this does not tell the complete story. There is a human factor here. Let’s not forget that this industry prides itself on being people-centred because our value proposition is largely centred around our teams delivering experiences to our customers and guests.
What happened to the workforce during the pandemic?
We have seen businesses in our industry devastated by the pandemic. But in this people-centred industry, what have we observed about our people, and what has been out of focus? William Murray has been watching the data and listening to the lived experience of restaurant and foodservice workers through his research. “Well over 500,000 people have left the tourism workforce. But they haven’t necessarily left the broader workforce. They have just been forced to find different work because they had to once they were laid off. Now they are debating whether they should be coming back at all. The skills that hospitality workers have, allow them to succeed in other industries.”
“In our industry, we preached the value of people. Sometimes we didn’t treat them that way. When the pressures of the pandemic hit the industry, we had to lay off or terminate people. The people of our industry became collateral damage. Employees don’t fault the businesses for having to make these decisions. But there is an underlying sense of bitterness for how they were treated. Long-term hospitality professionals who were trained to treat customers with care and compassion and empathy were not treated that way when the harsh reality of this pandemic set in for the businesses they were working in. Through no fault of their own or no fault of their employer.”
“Foodservice establishments have never attracted talent by saying we are the best paying industry. They have attracted talent by saying ‘We are different. We are exciting. We allow you to share all of those quality and service and people interaction social skills.’ It’s a dynamic industry. It’s a fast-paced industry. And more people than not have described it as their family. So, the breakdown last year wasn’t necessarily just a breakdown of a job. It was a separation of family. And our industry needs to understand that we are the largest, smallest family in Canada. If you want people to come back, you need to welcome them back as family. And treat them as such in good times and in bad.”
Val Upfold took a similar approach with her own business and witnessed employers’ varying levels of focus on their people. “When the pandemic hit, most of our active competitions just stopped. Our strategy shifted to staying engaged with our employer clients and our candidates. I called all of the candidates I [had] placed over the last couple of years. Because of my HR background, I knew it was important to maintain those relationships, even in difficult times.”
“Good people practices really helped during the pandemic. Those businesses [that] already had good HR practices seemed to do better. They naturally engaged their employees even if they had to lay them all off. They were also the ones who most easily adapted their businesses. Employers who didn’t focus on HR practices before the pandemic had a harder time through the pandemic. And they will have a hard time getting people back.”
“One of the silver linings that came out of this pandemic is that HR issues became more important. If getting people engaged and feeling a part of a team is the outcome of this, that can be better for the industry.”
The reality of the past 15 months is that the businesses of Canada’s foodservice sector were one of the hardest-hit groups of businesses. They were doing everything they could to make it through a time that challenged their very existence. This is not to say that all or even most foodservice employers were particularly neglectful of their workforce. This is to say that the workforce’s collective lived experience is already shaping the industry’s recovery because the pandemic impacted their lives overwhelmingly.
Will the recovery have workforce winners and losers?
The people at the core of this industry have been forced to take an uncomfortable and premature look inward, outward and forward as they consider and revaluate their careers amidst this massive disruption, which has no doubt been exhausting.
“The pandemic has given people time away. They have taken the time to reflect on the industry they love. They have become more aware of what they loved and what they didn’t. And there has been enough pause for people to stop and wonder if they want to come back. Or if they want to pivot somewhere else,” shares Murray.
“There is a level of uncertainty in the food and beverage industry right now. It is the most elastic of the hospitality industries, because of reopening and closing so many times over the last 15 months. That dynamic is dangerous to the employees. That uncertainty is pausing people from coming back. It’s not that everyone isn’t coming back. Just not enough.”
Val Upfold shares a unique perspective. “Some people were worried that this pandemic would lead to a homogenous industry with fewer big brands. But I have seen the opposite. People have had time to think and plan. And I have seen so many people stay in the industry and do their own things. This can lead to even more industry diversity and that’s a good thing.”
What are solutions moving forward?
Murray believes “There are going to be employers and operators out there who are not going to have an employee problem. There are fantastic employers in our marketplace who will never face this issue because they are the employers of choice. And there are going to be employers out there who cannot find talent at all. And it’s the employers in the middle who need the most help. And they need to raise the bar.”
Andrea Nicholson is the chef and owner of Butchie’s restaurant in Whitby, Ontario. “Finding people before the pandemic was difficult. Finding them now is even more difficult. I had eight interviews lined up one day this week and only one person even showed up. I have resorted to hiring people with the right attitude and no experience. But that means I have to put a lot of time and energy and even money into training. But at the same time, it gives me a chance to bring them into my team culture.”
“I have been consistently disappointed by the lack of volume coming out of the local community colleges. So much so that I have decided to take matters into my own hand. My restaurant is a small business, and we do a lot of catering. I have acquired a 10,000 square foot space nearby where I will build a commissary kitchen that can also act as my own culinary school. That way I can expand my business and also own my talent pipeline from end to end.”
Gallace reflects “Every industry has to evolve. Think about Uber or Airbnb. Maybe this is the time for the foodservice business to evolve its HR processes. The pandemic was terrible, but maybe it gets better now for the workforce. And that’s nothing but a good thing.”
Upfold’s perspective is similar “Restaurants are saying more and more if we want to pay people more, we are going to need to charge more. Consumers just may have to pay more so the model can change. Like when we all used to get dressed up to go on an airplane because it was such a luxury. Maybe the same goes for restaurants. It becomes less frequent because it costs more to go out. Maybe the whole model needs to change.”
Closing thoughts, reopening thoughts
Sometimes when you are looking at such a complex issue, the more perspectives you gain can provide the most profound insight. In this case, through the lens of research, William Murray has captured the essence of a hopeful and sustainable path forward for our workforce and our employers:
“My research is in workforce sustainability. Typically, sustainability research focuses on environmental and social. But in hospitality, if we do not have a sustainable workforce, we are [disadvantaged] in our ability to meet the needs of customers and to provide operators the passionate professionals they need to move their businesses forward.”
“Where do we go from here? We need to tell our love stories better. We need to get people to fall in love with the service industry again. But if you cannot pay people a living wage, you need to keep planning. Because without that living wage, there will be no sustainable workforce.”
What else needs to be said? Anything worth doing meaningfully in life is challenging. That’s how we know it’s meaningful. Like all our great challenges, it can be a struggle along the way. And that’s ok. We can be a work-in-progress. We do not need to aim for perfection. We are better served by aiming for vulnerability. From there we can rebuild. Towards a better future. Towards a different future. Now is the time to think mindfully about how we can begin to bridge this gap.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality and education sectors and a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people. Baker was dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts where he led the most significant transformation in the school’s over 50-year history, and he has held senior management roles at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. Before joining higher education, Baker worked in hotels and managed restaurants with brands including The Keg and Oliver & Bonacini. Baker serves on the board of directors at Tourism HR Canada, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and previously at Ontario Tourism Education Corporation, and the editorial advisory board for SUSTAIN.
Tourism’s revival and growth depends on the ability of tourism businesses to engage in community-led strategies. In many communities, tourism businesses are the main economic driver and a significant job creator. Tourism businesses often take on a leadership role in their community, helping harness resources to create a destination that is ready and willing to accept visitors.
Community partnerships are built on a few core principles or shared values:
- Building trust and respect using methods that promote inclusivity
- Committing to working on shared goals and promoting strategies that benefit the wellbeing of the community
- Being accountable to the community, along with following trusted decision-making mechanisms
To help communities build a productive and lasting partnership, we share here Build Strategic Community Partnerships, one of many checklists available on TourismRecovery.ca, a free resource hub to support the reopening of the visitor economy.
Build Strategic Community Partnerships
Identify reasons and opportunities to engage the community or form partnerships, for example:
- Shared tourism marketing strategies and messages
- Shared services and use of resources
- Need to coordinate shared worker plan
- Coalition to advocate on behalf of industry to influence policy change or seek financial supports
- Infrastructure plan to overcome limitations that impact visitor travel
- Education, training, or employment services to help address staffing needs
- Joint proposals to seek government funding
Identify potential community partners, such as:
- Other businesses that rely on the visitor economy
- Chambers of Commerce
- Economic development agencies
- Indigenous economic development groups
- Education and training providers
- Career development services
- Social agencies (e.g., immigrant serving groups)
Meet potential partners and create a plan:
- Confirm interest in establishing a partnership (formal or informal)
- Clarify shared goals and objectives/purpose
- Identify opportunities to work together and projected outcomes or impacts
- Identify requirements, such as:
- Necessary resources (e.g., money, time, skills)
- Individuals to consult, where needed
- Essential communication and reporting requirements
- Establish a community engagement strategy that considers a range of stakeholder needs:
- Inform: focus on communication to keep the community informed
- Consult/involve: seek individuals to contribute to the planning or execution of the plan
- Collaborate: look for ways to leverage other work or capacity
- Empower: work with individuals who have specialized expertise to address issues and inform solutions or actions, such as Indigenous Elders, legal experts, financial advisors
- Develop action plan
In larger community-led initiatives, consider:
- Establishing a formal working committee/group to lead the community plan
- Setting up an ‘executive’ committee to manage governance requirements and key administration requirements
Develop partnership agreements, considering:
- Governance/oversight requirements
- Strategic goals
- Services and resources
- Reporting requirements
Maintain partnership engagement:
- Monitor and evaluate engagement strategy, including:
- Effectiveness of communications efforts
- Level and type of community represented in the strategy
- Schedule regular reviews/meetings to review progress and challenges
- Establish communication processes
- Hold collaborative planning meetings as needed (e.g., weekly, monthly)
OTTAWA—July 6, 2021—Today, the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses (CHHB) is calling on the federal government to protect travel and tourism businesses and their employees in Canada, as the crucial Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) programs wind down.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the travel and tourism sector have been devastated by necessary public health restrictions, border closures, travel bans, and the loss of international and domestic travellers. The CEWS and CERS programs have been lifelines for these businesses that would otherwise have been forced to close. With these two key financial relief measures winding down as of July 4th, many CHHB members are facing a near-certain financial crisis that will hit especially hard in the fall and winter of this year.
“Our members need these programs to survive,” said Beth Potter, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. “Our most recent survey from June shows that nearly 60% of Canada’s hardest hit businesses will not survive if CEWS and CERS are not extended. This, together with the increased uncertainty around the reopening of our international borders, the absence of major tourism events and conventions, and the slow return of business travel means we could see a potential collapse of our industry.”
“Our industry was the first hit, the hardest hit, and will be the last to recover,” said Susie Grynol, President and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada. “We know that recovery for our businesses will be slower than other sectors; it will not happen with the flick of a switch. For our members who are directly tied to international and business travel, and major events and festivals that need much more lead time to plan, continued and tailored wage and fixed cost support will be needed for those that need it most to ensure we can get to the other side.”
“The tourism industry employs thousands of Canadians,” said Philip Mondor, President, Tourism HR Canada. “The wind down of these programs will mean many businesses will have to let staff go and millions of Canadians will be out of work.”
If businesses in the hardest-hit sectors are allowed to fall victim to the unfortunate timing of CEWS and CERS withdrawal, staggered travel and tourism reopening, and Canadians’ unavoidable urge to exit the country in cold months, we will see the loss of our vibrant tourism and travel industry, that was previously Canada’s 5th largest sector in GDP contribution. This means that small communities will no longer be able to support tourism, major cities will no longer be able to compete for major meetings and conventions, festivals and cultural events, remote communities will be lacking in critical infrastructure for emergency services, and the livelihoods of more than two million people – mostly women, youth and immigrants – will be at risk. A few months of financial support will avoid years of economic and social disruption.
The Coalition underlined that Finance Canada has justified winding down the subsidies because they potentially provide a disincentive for businesses to reopen and rehire employees. While this could be true for businesses dependent on a domestic customer base, it is not true for businesses in the tourism, travel and accommodation sectors that are still under heavy restrictions and international visitors are prohibited from coming to Canada.
Lastly, the Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CRHP) is being boasted by the government as the program to replace the CEWS. However, it is inadequate for businesses that are not recovering. CRHP only provides funding to businesses to hire or rehire staff as business activity recovers. “Without continued tailored support for businesses that have been hardest hit, many tourism businesses across Canada will face difficult decisions on reopening, and won’t be able to pay their bills to be around in 2022 ,” said Potter.
Established in September 2020, the Coalition of the Hardest Hit Businesses is an industry-driven coalition that represents the hundreds of businesses in tourism, travel, arts and culture, events and festivals, motor coach, accommodations and hospitality, and Indigenous tourism experiences.
Despite ongoing public health restrictions that limited tourism businesses’ ability to operate, the sector gained employment in May, adding 45,800 workers. Gains in full-time employment were offset to a degree by declines in part-time employment.
The seasonally adjusted Labour Force Survey data for May shows employment across all industries decreased by 68,000. However, the unadjusted data shows an increase in employment of 288,700.
Why the large discrepancy? In most years, employment increases significantly between April and May as seasonal businesses scale up hiring. From 2015 to 2019, the average increase in seasonally unadjusted employment between April and May was 407,800. Last May, seasonally unadjusted employment grew by 634,600 as businesses started to rebound from the initial shutdowns that occurred at the start of the pandemic. Seasonally adjusted employment data takes into account these historical trends, and when that is done, this May’s employment increase is historically small. So small that the seasonally adjusted data interprets it as a loss of employment.
Data is from the week of May 9 to 15, 2021.
- Tourism employment grew by 45,800, an increase of 3.0% from April.
- In May 2021, tourism employed 1,551,900 workers, which is 306,200 more than in May of last year. But compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.8%, with 538,500 fewer workers employed compared to May 2019.
- The largest employment gains occurred in the recreation and entertainment, and food and beverage services industries.
- Tourism employment increased in all provinces, except for Nova Scotia. Employment climbed 13.0% in Prince Edward Island and 7.8% in Saskatchewan. Despite continuing restrictions, Ontario added 23,900 tourism workers.
- Tourism employment amongst youth grew 9.75% in May.
- In May, tourism employment was down 23.4% compared to February 2020. The total actual hours worked by tourism employees was down 26.1%, from 64.0 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours.
Please note: To allow comparisons with tourism sector data, which sees significant employment fluctuations over the year, we use seasonally unadjusted data for both tourism employment and overall employment.
Tourism Employment Rate
In April, seasonally unadjusted employment across all industries increased by 288,700. Tourism employment grew by 45,800, an increase of 3.0% from April. This was a relatively small increase in tourism employment for the month of May. Between 2015 and 2019, the average May increase in tourism employment was 95,620. The smaller increase was due to public health restrictions, which affects tourism to a greater degree than most other industries. The tourism sector accounted for 15.8% of employment gains in May. Usually, tourism accounts for about a quarter of employment added in the month of May.
In May 2021, tourism employed 1,551,900 workers, which is 306,200 more than in May of last year. But compared to the same month pre-pandemic, tourism employment is down 25.8%, with 538,500 fewer workers employed compared to May 2019.
Full-time tourism employment increased by 61,300, while the number of part-time tourism positions fell by 15,500. Employment increased in three of the five tourism industry groups, while declining by 6,300 in transportation and by 600 in travel services. The largest employment gains occurred in the recreation and entertainment, and food and beverage services industries, which gained 27,200 and 24,600 employees apiece.
Because the industry groups that make up tourism are different sizes, looking at the monthly change in employment as a percentage change relative to the previous month provides a more equitable picture of how each industry is recovering. It also helps illustrate the size of the employment increase or decrease, relative to total employment within a given industry group. Tourism employment is now down 23.4% compared to February 2020, the last month before pandemic-related employment losses began.
Change in employment levels in May ranged from a loss of 2.1% in the transportation industry to a gain of 7.6% in the recreation and entertainment industry.
Since the first month prior to the pandemic, employment is down 31.2% in accommodations, 27.1% in travel services, 25.1% in food and beverage services, 21.7% in transportation, and 17.9% in recreation and entertainment.
Although businesses faced significant restrictions due to public health orders associated with the third wave of the pandemic, tourism employment in May was 24.6% higher than it was last year, when businesses were just starting to reopen following the first pandemic-induced shutdown. Compared to May 2019, however, tourism employment was down 25.8%. Compared to 2019, the accommodations industry had the greatest percentage decrease in employment, but employment levels remain depressed in all industry groups.
Provincial Tourism Employment
Tourism employment increased in all provinces, except for Nova Scotia. Employment climbed 13.0% in Prince Edward Island and 7.8% in Saskatchewan. Despite continuing restrictions, Ontario added 23,900 tourism workers.
The fact that tourism employment increased in provinces where restrictions were ongoing—or, in some cases, tightened—indicates that businesses are trying to prepare for the summer months as best they can, and that includes adding staff. Importantly, at the time data was collected, only Saskatchewan had produced an official reopening plan. Since then, several provinces have produced timelines and milestones that will allow business owners to predict when they will reopen. Due to this increased certainty, employment should increase significantly in June—even if restrictions are still in place when data is collected.
In every province except Newfoundland, tourism employment was higher this May than it was in May 2020. Compared to 2019, provincial tourism employment is well below pre-COVID levels, ranging from -6.2% in New Brunswick to -35.2% in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tourism Unemployment Rate
The seasonally unadjusted tourism unemployment rate decreased from 11.3% to 9.8%. This was the second month in which the unemployment rate dropped. In April, it fell from 13.0% to 11.3%.
May’s decrease will partially be due to the increase in employment. But stakeholders should be aware that Statistics Canada only links unemployed workers to their former industry for one calendar year. After that, they are counted as unclassified. After over a year in which employment has been reduced due to the ongoing pandemic, the tourism unemployment rate—and by extension the unemployment rate for any industry—should be used with caution. The decreasing unemployment rate does not necessarily mean that tourism workers who have been unemployed for over a year have found a new job or dropped out of the labour force.
The number of unemployed workers in the “unclassified” category has increased from 571,800 in March to 777,400 in April, and reached 880,500 this month.
In May 2021, the unemployment rate in the tourism sector was 9.8%, which is 20.0 percentage points lower than the rate reported in May 2020, and lower than the previous month (April 2021), when the unemployment rate stood at 11.3%.
At 9.8%, tourism’s unemployment rate was above Canada’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate of 8.4%.
All tourism industry groups have reported lower unemployment rates than the same month last year.
|Tourism Industry Group||
|Food & Beverage Services||35.0%||11.6%||10.9%|
|Recreation & Entertainment||29.3%||13.1%||12.6%|
On a provincial basis, tourism unemployment rates ranged from 8.0% in New Brunswick to 17.3% in Prince Edward Island.
The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for tourism in each province, with the exceptions of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Alberta, were above the rates reported for the provincial economy.
The Tourism Labour Force
The tourism labour force grew in May due to the increased number of employed workers. The labour force grew by 24,100, a combination of 45,800 workers gaining employment and the number of unemployed workers falling by 21,700. The tourism labour force is the smallest it has been in decades, with the exception of April 2021, when many individuals lost work and were unable to seek another job while the economy was shut down.
Employment by Sector
As of May, Canada’s tourism sector employed 473,300 fewer people than it had in February 2020. Across all industries, there were only 134,100 fewer people employed this May than there were in February 2020. Employment is in fact higher than it was pre-COVID in nine sectors of the economy.
That said, employment does tend to increase in a number of industries as the summer months approach. However, comparing May 2019 to May 2021 still shows that employment in tourism has decreased more than it has in the overall economy. To help eliminate seasonal swings in employment that can occur between the winter and spring, we can compare May 2019 to May 2021, which shows employment in tourism is down by 538,500, while overall employment is down 459,200. This does suggest that tourism is losing workers to other industries. Compared to May 2019, employment is up in five sectors of the economy. The finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, and professional, scientific and technical services sectors have seen the greatest growth in employment.
The only other possibility is that employment increases in other sectors are being filled purely by former workers from non-tourism sectors or new entrants to the labour force. The reality is that higher employment levels in sectors such as utilities, construction, and finance are being filled by a mix of former workers from tourism, former workers from other sectors, and new entrants.
Hours of Work
Compared to the levels seen prior to the pandemic, total actual hours worked in the tourism sector remain significantly depressed, and to a greater degree than employment. In May, employment was down 23.4% compared to February 2020. The total actual hours worked by tourism employees was down 26.1%, from 64.0 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours. The total number of hours worked in tourism increased between April and May, rising 6.9% from 38.8 billion hours to 41.5 billion hours. Only in the recreation and entertainment industry has employment fallen more than actual hours of work. The travel services industry has the most significant gap in worker activity measures: employment is down 27.1%, but hours worked are down 39.2%.
The decrease in hours suggests that economic activity has fallen to a greater degree than employment data alone would suggest. Several factors could be behind this gap, but it is partially due to programs like the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and other supports. The good news here is that this data suggests that there are underutilized workers still employed within the industry, thanks to supports like CEWS, and businesses are retaining workers—even at a financial loss—so that they have those employees available when demand starts to return. When it does, there is a reservoir of staffing capacity that already exists within the industry that can immediately be deployed.
Numerous studies have noticed the negative effect of COVID-19 on employment among women, immigrants, young people, and visible minorities relative to other demographic groups. To a large extent, the industries that have suffered the brunt of COVID-19 have a higher share of workers from these demographic groups than the overall Canadian labour market. Tourism, for example, has a higher percentage of jobs held by women, young people, and immigrants than the workforce as a whole. However, even within the tourism sector, COVID-19’s negative impact on employment has fallen on some demographic groups to a greater degree than others.
In May, tourism employment increased 2.3% for male tourism workers and 3.8% for female tourism workers. As a percent of pre-pandemic levels, female employment stood at 77.3% of February 2020 levels and male employment stood at 76.0% of February levels. It is too early to make any firm conclusions, but gender employment trends may be similar to last summer. In the early months of the pandemic, female tourism workers were impacted to a greater degree, but over the summer, employment among women rose higher. Last summer’s trend was likely driven by the food and beverage services industry, which is the largest employer within the tourism sector and which employs more females than males. If demand from tourists is limited this summer, those industries which draw on locals for significant revenues will recover earlier than industries that rely more on tourists. The food and beverage services industry relies on locals for 80% of its demand.
However, a countervailing trend could develop if there is significant demand in the recreation and entertainment industry. It also derives significant demand from locals, as opposed to tourists. Although it does not employ as many workers as food and beverage services, it does employ more males than females.
Tourism employs a very high share of young workers compared to the broader economy. The 2016 census showed that people aged 15 to 24 held 12.8% of all jobs in Canada. People in the same age category fill over 30% of jobs in tourism. Young people tend to be a particularly prominent part of the tourism workforce over the summer months. In July 2019, 37.0% of employed tourism workers were youth. Since the pandemic, the share of youth in the tourism workforce has declined. It is still much higher than in the broader economy and still spiked upwards in the summer of 2020—and is starting to increase again this year. However, as a percentage of the employed tourism workforce, it was 4.7 percentage points lower in May 2021 than May 2019.
Tourism employment amongst youth grew 9.75% in May. Employment decreased amongst those aged 25 to 44 and over 65. In terms of pre-pandemic employment levels, youth employment was still lagging, at only 70.5% of where it was in February 2020. All other age categories were also below their pre-pandemic levels of employment, but not to the same degree.
Employment levels amongst landed immigrants working in the tourism sector rose 1.3% in May, while employment among non-immigrants increased by 3.7%. This reflects the increased hiring of young workers (see section above), as there is a lower percentage of immigrants among younger workers aged 15-24. Employment levels among immigrants, as a percentage of pre-pandemic (February 2020) employment levels had been declining since February 2021 and only recovered slightly in May. Employment among non-immigrants has been on an upward trend since this January, with only a slight pullback in April.
Compared to the last month before the pandemic, tourism employment remained suppressed in all types of geographic regions. However, some regions have greater swings in seasonal employment, which makes it important to compare employment during the same month in previous years. This shows that as of May, the rural areas and smaller communities that are economically linked with larger urban centres have had the greatest recovery in tourism employment. Rural areas that are close to urban centres are the only region of Canada that has more employed workers than in both February 2020 and May 2019. Relative to February 2020, rural areas also show smaller increases in the number of unemployed workers in their region compared to urban cores and urban fringe areas.
Seeing employment gains in May, when most provinces had yet to lift restrictions, or even put forth reopening plans, is hopeful. It shows that even in the face of uncertainty, some tourism businesses were starting to increase staffing levels. A large increase in employment will occur in June because, in some provinces, restrictions will have eased. In others, where restrictions remain in effect, businesses have been given timelines for reopening that they can plan around.
However, in many provinces, a complete lifting of restrictions is not planned until late summer or even September—although there is a possibility that those timelines could be compressed if full vaccination speeds up. Because of this, employment levels in tourism will remain depressed relative to the pre-pandemic era. This will be particularly true for industries that rely more on tourists than locals for revenue.
But even with overall tourism employment lower than in 2019, many tourism businesses are uncertain whether they will be able to find enough workers this summer. Exactly how many workers are available for the tourism sector is a difficult question to answer.
We see some hopeful news in the gap between employment levels and actual hours being worked in the sector. The fact that hours have fallen more than employment suggests that the workforce that has been retained is currently underutilized. This means there are existing workers who can work more hours as demand ramps up.
Many Canadians remain unemployed and are available to work. However, this will be balanced by concerns people have about working in the tourism sector due to perceptions of the industry that have been negatively affected by the pandemic and lingering health concerns.
At least some former tourism workers have moved to other industries. How many is difficult to say. When comparing May 2019 to May 2021, employment in tourism is down by 538,500, while overall employment is down 459,200. This does indicate that tourism is losing workers to other industries. We know that employment has risen in other sectors of the economy, particularly the finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, and professional, scientific and technical services sectors. These jobs are being filled by a mix of former workers from tourism, former workers from other sectors, and new entrants to the labour force. How many workers come from each group is difficult to ascertain.
For more on the impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s tourism workforce, please visit our Employment Tracker.
 As defined by the Canadian Tourism Satellite Account. The NAICS industries included in the tourism sector are those that would cease to exist or operate at a significantly reduced level of activity as a direct result of an absence of tourism.
Workforce in Disarray
COVID-19 has caused significant disruption to the tourism labour market, much greater than the economy overall. Many workers are not going to return to jobs once they are restored, causing some of the greatest labour shortages ever seen and hampering recovery. The reasons for this are complex and solutions or ways to address the chronic shortfall require multiple strategies.
Where does one begin and what should the focus be?
Most workforce issues are attributed to three dimensions:
- The supply of workers: Do we have enough or too many workers?
- The alignment (or misalignment) of skills, i.e. the ‘skills mismatch’: Do the workers have the right skills for the job?
- Geographic and occupational mobility: Are learners and workers located in regions where they are needed?
Chronic Short Supply of Workers Hampers Recovery and Growth
The tourism sector was experiencing severe shortages of workers prior to COVID. As the sector recovers, the anticipated shortages will more acute and the difficulty to attract and retain workers is expected to be more difficult. Although there is currently a high level of unemployment, the longer the outlook for reopening, the more the sector is losing its workforce to other industries. Other factors such as the precarity of employment (e.g., uncertainty around job stability, worries about too few hours or suppressed wages), concerns about safety, changing job demands, inadequate childcare supports, and various other factors are creating the perfect storm. (You may also be interested in the Workforce Power Session webinar or Lost Momentum: Newly Released Data Shows the Rapid Tourism Job Growth COVID Interrupted.)
As stated in the Workforce Shortfall Report, a critical shortage of skilled labour hampers growth and recovery and contributes to higher operating costs and reduced profits. Without workers, businesses forego investments, lose their ability to compete, burn out staff, and ultimately anger and turn off customers. (This is clearly not the image we want for Canadian tourism.)
Skills for Sustained Economic Relaunch and Global Competitiveness
COVID-19 has significantly impacted the nature of tourism jobs and created an unparalleled shift in skill sets needed. Recovery, resiliency, and sustained competitiveness require new skills and lifelong learning, including a focus on digital transitions. All tourism workers (frontline, supervisory/operational, management) require the right skills to enable the sector to have a sustained economic relaunch and be globally competitive.
Training in many forms is needed to make sure people can acquire the skills they need for current and future job demands. Support for the development of new skills training content and new delivery modes, including addressing sub-sector and regional differences, is needed. Tourism HR Canada has previously reported that the tourism sector is going to rely heavily on accessible virtual learning that enables job seekers and workers to obtain micro-credentials and tailored learning products (i.e., just-in-time, cost-effective learning responsive to market and employer demands). One example of a program recently updated and relaunched in response to COVID is the Business Builders Series for operators and entrepreneurs. (Limited time offer: this program is available at no cost for anyone that signs up now.)
To get a glimpse at some emerging skills, check out Impact of Digitalization on Tourism Jobs.
Learner and Worker Mobility
Labour mobility is all about the ability of workers and learners to move around or relocate for employment. Mobility usually refers to both geographic and occupational concerns. Geographic mobility refers to the worker’s ability to relocate or change work location, while occupational mobility refers to changing of jobs. Learner mobility is most often associated with the rights to transfer credits or acquired learning to new educational pursuits.
Factors inhibiting mobility are often linked to outdated policies or resource constraints. Prohibitive costs associated with relocation, a lack of affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, or institutional policies that prohibit mobility are all examples that prevent people from accessing employment opportunities.
Program and Policy Focus
Budget 2021 contains a lot of promising funding initiatives that have the potential to help address tourism workforce recovery efforts. The sector’s current focus is extended advocacy to help secure projects and funding for tourism workforce initiatives, anticipating the ability to tap into various new programs:
- Canada Recovery Hiring Program
- Skills for Success
- Community Workforce Development Program
- Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program
- Canada Digital Adoption Plan
In addition, the sector may benefit from programs that have been extended or renewed. These include:
- Student Work Placement Program
- Helping Youth and Students Build Job Skills and Connect with Employers
- Youth Employment and Skills Strategy
- Canada Summer Jobs
- Enhancing the Canada Workers Benefit
Other measures will contribute significantly to helping build the tourism workforce and meeting the needs of vulnerable and precarious workers in the sector. The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care System, the National Mental Health Standards, and supports for businesses to pay for mandatory quarantine for Temporary Foreign Workers will be a great help to the sector.
What Employers Can Do Now
Checklist of Ten Practical HR Practices to Attract and Retain Workers
- Diversify recruitment strategy: go after new markets and ones that are best fit for the sector, e.g., New Canadians, Indigenous Peoples.
- Invest in professional development and value career progression: help workers grow professionally and personally; mentor and coach.
- Accommodate workers’ needs and personal work-life balance interests, e.g., flexible scheduling, providing workplace aids and tools.
- Enable increased flexibility in work duties: design the jobs to match workers’ interests.
- Prioritize safety and security, e.g., ensure there is sufficient and appropriate personal protective equipment (where applicable); provide taxi rides for safe transport late at night.
- Offer competitive compensation.
- Create a welcoming and inclusive workplace, e.g., enable employees to have input, share suggestions and ideas; be explicit on zero tolerance for anti-oppressive behaviours; communicate honestly and with fairness.
- Provide recognition and consistent feedback.
- Invest in HR practices: make human capital a business priority by ensuring managers have the skills and knowledge to motivate and manage productive teams.
- Be clear about company vision, corporate goals, and mission: establish a brand and reputation that is attractive and distinct to your competitors.
A few other important strategies that will help you build a competitive, inclusive, and resilient workforce:
- Support the advocacy efforts of professional associations (e.g., Tourism Industry Association of Canada, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Hotel Association of Canada), who are working on your behalf to align policies and programs that address workforce issues.
- Let your MP know the challenges you are facing and the need for sector-specific programs and policies that address workforce needs.
- Lead or be involved in community-led workforce planning. Tourism’s future workforce relies on community-led models (it’s beyond enterprises and must involve collaboration between employers, governments, workers, education providers, and various support services).
The team at Tourism HR Canada was thrilled to be the recipient of the CGLCC Champion Award, presented last week at the LGBT+ Excellence in Business & Leadership Awards held virtually during the New World: 2021 Digital LGBT+ Global Business Summit.
“Our mission is to contribute to a thriving and inclusive Canadian economy by promoting economic growth and prosperity, in particular through enhanced supplier diversity, global trade opportunities, and LGBT+ youth mentorship,” stated Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO at CGLCC – Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce. “This award is bestowed by the CGLCC Board of Directors to an individual or organization that has made an outstanding commitment to the CGLCC. Tourism HR Canada is extremely deserving of this award given its ongoing support of the CGLCC over the years!”
CGLCC and Tourism HR Canada recently wrapped up a national diversity and inclusion initiative that saw workshops and seminars delivered for free across Canada, in-person and virtually, to over 1,100 individuals in tourism and hospitality. The program also conducted a number of destination audits on participating businesses’ LGBT+ travel market readiness and tourism strategies, and provided a toolkit with 11 new downloadable resources focused on helping participants become more inclusive and welcoming of LGBT+ travellers and employees. (A full summary of the project, funded by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada [ISED] can be found here.)
“This is absolutely thrilling and a great honour,” said Philip Mondor, president and CEO of Tourism HR Canada. “Tourism HR Canada has always been a great fan of the important work at CGLCC. The focus on inclusion, diversity, anti-oppressive practices, sustainable development respectful of people and place…these are all part of our DNA, and values we share with CGLCC. Our team worked hand-in-hand with CGLCC to attain overwhelming success over the past few years. We offer our thanks and our commitment to continue to work in partnership with CGLCC on many more initiatives.”
In addition to the programming mentioned above, Tourism HR Canada worked with CGLCC on its recently announced national Rainbow Registered accreditation program. The accreditation “will help consumers and prospective employees to more easily identify LGBT+ friendly businesses across Canada. It will also help businesses of all industries and sizes demonstrate their commitment and consistent efforts to provide a welcome and accepting experience through progressive policies and practices.”
COVID-19 has changed the playing field. For tourism businesses to recover, they will need to quickly react to the profound changes in the economy. Businesses now must align products and services with new markets, respond to new regulations, mitigate risk associated with their supply chain, learn to work with very different staffing situations, recover from significant losses in revenues, and more.
Tourism operators must now revisit their business strategies to align their products and services with new and different markets. The expected focus will be domestic markets (over international markets). This checklist outlines the basics on developing a sales and marketing plan. New and niche markets may have different requirements than previous target markets, therefore a company may need to use different tactics depending on the specific market.
Develop Sales and Marketing Plan for New Markets
Develop an organizational profile, including:
- Name, address, contact information, and principal partners/owners
- Business vision and beliefs (in line with target market)
- What your business is about
- Your business objectives
- Core organizational goals and values
* Remember to develop the profile with the target market(s) in mind. Use plain language and wording that will be understood and meaningful to the market you are trying to attract.
Define overall marketing objective(s), for example:
- Provide premium quality services to domestic markets
- Deliver authentic guiding experiences to Canadian visitors
- Increase sales by 10% over the next year
- Generate $x to sustain operations
* Your marketing objectives should be based on understanding your strengths and weaknesses, the business environment you operate in, and your overall business strategy.
* In difficult economic times, many recommend focusing your objectives on the short term (e.g., next six months), and then revisiting them again later since market conditions are not stable and will change. Focus on objectives that are realistic and achievable.
Describe product/service offerings, such as detailing how the product/service is unique, meets a niche market, and/or is superior to the competition, or specifying the value of the product/service to customers
Outline characteristics of target market(s), such as:
- Proximity to business: where do they live; how far is it from your business?
- Demographic/socioeconomic profile (e.g., age, income, education level, ethnic group, religious affiliation)
- Psychographic profile (e.g., attitudes, values, beliefs, interests, lifestyle preferences)
- Motivations and needs (e.g., family holiday, business event)
Outline threats and opportunities to understand the environment, considering:
- Social/cultural factors (e.g., attitudes, lifestyles, consumer confidence):
- What is the demand for new products or services to address their social needs?
- What about aging populations—what types of accommodations will you need?
- Are there different attitudes (e.g., on gender equity, racial discrimination)? What does this mean for your business and the services you provide?
- Technological factors:
- Need for automation/robotization or augmentation to reduce contact points?
- What about the growing demand for use of ‘big data’, social media, dynamic communications?
- Economic variables (e.g., interest rates):
- Business costs are rising—how will this impact your new business strategy and the products or services you offer?
- What about consumer/visitor disposable income—are they thriftier?
- Ecological, ethical, and environmental considerations (e.g., customer expectations):
- Preservation of culture, heritage?
- Alignment with Indigenous reconciliation considerations?
- Brand management and link to corporate environmentalism/corporate social responsibility?
- Legislated or voluntary waste management, disposal, energy-saving measures?
- Political context (e.g., taxation, policies):
- What is the competition for resources for tourism (over other sectors)? Is tourism a priority for your region and is it supported by government-led initiatives?
- Regulator and legal considerations (e.g., changes in employment law, new regulations):
- What are the new regulations or requirements you must follow?
- What about new labour policies—how do these impact your HR plans and overall capacity?
- Did you factor in the growing interest and demand for workplace health and safety?
Determine your marketing tactics:
- What product or service will you offer? Do you need to change what you have offered in the past?
- What price will you set? What price will this new market bear? How does it compare to your competition?
- What is the best way to promote or reach your target market? Is this different than your past approach?
- What are your sales objectives?
Develop contingency plans for dealing with potential challenges related to:
- New regulations for packaging/labelling/claims
- Shifts in trends or buyers’ preferences
- Environmental issues
- Marketing, advertising, and sales regulations
- Changes in the economy
- New competition
- Negative business image or perceptions
- Staffing issues
- Set out a schedule of the tasks you need to follow
- Identify the resources (e.g., people, money, tools) needed for each task
- Identify the costs and set a budget for your plan
Download the PDF version of this checklist for free at TourismRecovery.ca. Be sure to also check out the newly launched Tourism Business Builders online resources, available free of charge until September 1, 2021.
Tourism has been severely limited since COVID-19 closed international borders, and it still has a long way to go on the road to recovery. The journey will not be without challenges, but there is room for hope.
Headwinds include the continued absence of international tourism and business travel. Many festivals and events, which would act as an incentive for domestic travel within Canada, have been cancelled. Tourism businesses have lost staff, some of whom have moved on from our sector permanently.
Still, with over half of Canadians partially vaccinated and the provinces announcing reopening roadmaps, tourism operators can start to plan for summer 2021 and beyond. The industry has shown a great deal of resolve, perseverance, and resiliency in the face of the greatest crisis tourism has ever faced. The focus has understandably been on finding the tricky balance between remaining financially solvent and keeping the business operational—three-quarters of businesses kept core staff employed even at a financial loss.
As the summer approaches, workforce issues will take centre stage. Although we know that recovery timelines will vary by region and industry, having enough staff will be a preeminent concern upon reopening. Every customer turned away because of a lack of staff to serve them is a lost opportunity.
To assess the state of business conditions and the workforce, in the late winter and early spring of 2021, Tourism HR Canada conducted two national surveys of tourism businesses. The national results are contained in the two COVID-19 Tourism Workforce and Business Impact Reports released today.
The first of these two surveys was conducted in January and February. Businesses were still dealing with the restrictions of the pandemic’s second wave. The full results of that survey, including information by industry group, region, and geographic location (urban/rural), are now available.
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 National Report
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 Detailed Report
The second survey gathered information from business operators in March and April, when, following a brief lifting of restrictions, more transmissible variants drove a third wave of the pandemic in almost all regions of Canada. National level data from that report is now available. Industry and regional level data will be available shortly.
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 2 National Report
During the winter, only 5.9% of tourism businesses could fully open without any limitations or restrictions on their operations. Most businesses were placed under tighter restrictions, and 62.5% reported having to release staff due to those restrictions.
Over half of tourism businesses took on debt to survive, and three-quarters have maintained their core staff—even at a financial loss—to keep the business operating. Among firms that have taken on debt, the majority are concerned that it will hamper their ability to recover.
Almost half of the businesses were using the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to subsidize wages. Importantly for the upcoming summer, many businesses stayed in touch with staff that they had been forced to release.
Besides the CEWS, businesses were accessing several other supports—though none was as popular as CEWS. In addition to federal support programs, 37.2% of businesses were also accessing support provided by the provincial/territorial government, municipal government, or other organizations. Despite the number of businesses accessing these supports, half reported that harnessing government supports was an area in which they required guidance. Concerningly, 43.1% of respondents to the first survey said they were not currently receiving the financial support they needed to remain viable.
Looking forward to summer, the greatest concerns tourism business owners have are another shutdown, travel restrictions on Canadians, and a lack of traveller confidence. Almost half of businesses fear that an inability to hire staff will negatively affect their business operations. Those concerned about staffing fear that workers will choose EI benefits over returning to work, that there are not enough workers in the region, or that they will face stiff competition for workers from other industries.
In terms of what they need this summer, businesses are very clear that they want to see straightforward communication on reopening timelines, clear communication on protocols, and marketing that encourages domestic travel.
The good news is that many of these needs are starting to be met. Provinces and territories are announcing reopening plans that indicate what conditions must be met for restrictions to be lifted, along with the protocols that will remain in place (such as mask wearing and social distancing). Marketing agencies are engaged in reminding Canadians of the importance of the tourism industry and encouraging them to frequent tourism businesses in their community, when it is safe to do so.
We, too, would like to take this opportunity to encourage all Canadians to engage in tourism activities when they are allowed, and when they feel safe doing so. Enjoy the patio of a local restaurant and visit a local museum when they reopen—if they aren’t already. Explore new destinations or return to favourite sights in your own province or territory.
The purpose of this report is to assess the state of workforce and business conditions in the tourism industry as we head towards summer. Our labour market research shows just how hard this crisis hit the tourism industry. It has been an incredibly tough year for business owners and tourism employees. We still have a long way to travel, but the journey has begun.
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 National Report
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 2 National Report
Download the COVID-19 Tourism Workforce Impact Wave 1 Detailed Report
Tourism HR Canada’s latest report, The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce, takes an in-depth look at the systemic issues facing the tourism sector’s labour force and at the effect of COVID-19, and recommends how to make the tourism sector more sustainable and resilient as we recover from this crisis. While the primary focus is employment-related considerations, broader economic, social, and political factors are also considered to contextualize the findings.Download The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce
COVID-19: The Impact
Tourism has been the hardest-hit sector of the economy and faces significant challenges on its road to recovery.
Economic activity in tourism, including all sources such as local residents, has dropped much further than economic activity in other industries. Using January 2020 as a baseline, the gross domestic product (GDP) across all industries had not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels by February 2021. GDP stood at 98.1% of January 2020 levels. However, across all tourism-related industries, GDP was only 58.1% of pre-pandemic levels.
Since the start of the pandemic, many businesses have been forced to close due to a lack of tourists and to public health measures that have restricted their ability to serve local customers as well. As of January 2021, there were 9.8% fewer active tourism businesses operating than there were one year earlier. By tourism industry group, the reduction in active businesses ranged from -2.2% in the accommodations industry to -27.9% in the travel services industry.
In the first two months of the pandemic, employment in tourism dropped by 43.1%. Employment levels started rising in May 2020, but over the summer, the tourism sector employed approximately 450,000 fewer workers than in 2019, depending on the month. Employment dropped once more in the fall. With tourism essentially non-existent since the summer of 2020, tourism employment levels have risen and fallen in response to public health orders. Outbreaks of COVID that resulted in lockdowns caused tourism employment to drop anywhere from 15% to 23%. As of April 2021, tourism employed 520,000 fewer workers than it had in February 2020, the last month before the pandemic reached Canada, an employment drop of over 25%.
Recovery: Different Speeds and the Importance of Local
Across the country, there are still some uncertainties about the pace of vaccination and the timelines for easing restrictions. But the provincial/territorial reopening plans being developed and implemented allow businesses to begin planning for an ongoing and sustained recovery.
That said, it is important to recognize that the “tourism recovery” will happen at different speeds, depending on industry and region. Tourism industries such as restaurants and recreation facilities that derive significant demand from locals (i.e., non-tourists) will have opportunities to recover earlier than those that rely on domestic tourists. Businesses that rely heavily on international travel face the longest recovery outlook. Regardless of whether they serve a local or a tourist, summer remains a key season for the industry. Tourism businesses in regions that open in June, July, and August 2021 (the earlier the better) will be at an advantage over those that can not. That said, tourism operators’ greatest concern is a fourth wave that leads to another lockdown. Another shutdown in the summer would devastate the sector—which calls for cautious management of the reopening.
When restrictions lift, there is likely to be significant demand for tourism goods and services from residents and domestic tourists. Demand will be driven by the increasing speed of vaccination rollouts, improving consumer confidence, building travel demand, and a substantial number of households (those that were fortunate enough to continue working during the pandemic) starting to spend some of the savings they have built up.
That economic activity is likely to be regionally focussed. There will be little international travel demand until the border reopens and some significant drivers of domestic tourism will be missing. In Ontario, indoor attractions such as museums and art galleries will not open until the final phase of the province’s reopening plan. Across Canada, major festivals, sporting events, and conferences have been cancelled. Inability to access major indoor attractions, or attend major events, will dampen travel to the host locations. A knock-on effect will be felt by hotels and, to a lesser degree, restaurants.
But Canadians do want to get outside and travel after over a year of the pandemic. Limited in terms of international or inter-provincial travel options, they will shift their travel plans to destinations closer to home, with a particular focus on outdoor-oriented activities. Last year, many individuals and families travelled to cottages, campsites, and other getaways within their own or neighbouring provinces, with campsites booked up at overwhelming rates across the country. 2021 is likely to be similar.
The most likely scenario is that some regions will see significant spikes in customer demand—with an accompanying need for workers. At the same time, customer demand will remain below pre-pandemic levels in urban centres due to missing international travel, business travel, and the continuation of work-from-home arrangements.
Implications for the Workforce
As demand returns, reattracting the displaced workforce is a key priority for the sector. Stakeholders across the board are highly concerned that displaced workers will not return to the industry even when the pandemic is over, leading to labour shortages for operators. Even if workers do return, businesses in those regions that see significant demand will be challenged to restaff quickly enough. One concern raised by businesses owners is that the loss of core, long-term staff means they will need to operate with a less experienced group of workers during the early phases of the recovery. Some good news on this front is that that recent surveys show that three-quarters of tourism businesses held onto a core group of staff throughout the pandemic—even though it came at a financial loss.
Of additional concern, perceptions of the industry as a place of work amongst the general population and current and former tourism workers have deteriorated during the pandemic. COVID-19 has negatively impacted desire to work in tourism, perceptions of safety and comfort while working in the sector, and perceptions of job security. Many workers are concerned about low wages and compensation, securing reliable hours, career development opportunities, and the industry’s stigma of being low-skilled with poor job security.
In the long-term, more focus is needed on reforming immigration pathways that align with the tourism industry. Regardless of the immediate short-term summer staffing challenges, the future workforce relies on immigration. Between 2017 and 2018, net immigration accounted for 80% of Canada’s population increase. By the early 2030s, Canada’s population growth will rely exclusively on immigration. Canada’s current and future prosperity depends on recruiting immigrants
The tourism sector’s recovery is starting, but from a policy perspective it is important to remember that the industries that rely heavily on domestic and international tourism face a longer recovery time and greater likelihood that former staff will permanently move to other industries.
The tourism sector’s focus has been on maintaining business operations and using available supports to stay financially afloat. Those concerns are not about to disappear, but as the visitor economy reopens, there is a pressing need to focus on the workforce to ensure the resurgence in customer demand can be met.Download The Post-COVID Future of the Tourism Workforce