COVID-19 Recovery Toolkit
Tourism’s workforce issues did not begin with the pandemic, but COVID has heightened and amplified the problem. The labour shortage is here to stay, and adapting to new circumstances must involve multiple strategies. There is a need for better utilization of tailored resources and supports, along with adapting business models and improving HR/human capital practices. The reality is that the sector is facing greater competition for workers than it did before, and it’s expected to get worse.
To assist employers in moving forward, Tourism HR Canada has created a new, free resource, Now Hiring: A Guide to Help Employers Attract and Retain Workers in a Post-Pandemic Environment.
The tools in this guide are intended to help tourism businesses get started on the path to recovery, with both short-term and long-term strategies to attract, retain, and grow a skilled workforce. Now Hiring covers a range of essential HR practices, tips to implement them, and practical checklists and forms to help tackle key issues.
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)
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).
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 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.
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
Investments in labour market strategies are essential to tourism’s ability to recover and be a key economic engine and future job creator for the Canadian economy. For this reason, tourism businesses often lead the way in developing a community-based workforce action plan. An effective strategy helps address labour force priorities set by government and ultimately builds a resilient and inclusive labour market.
Community labour force development plans aim to engage all community stakeholders. These plans focus on the economic development goals of the region or community, tourism’s growth potential, skills and capacity required, demographic data, potential industry partners and employers, existence of education and training to meet demands/needs, and opportunities for public-private partnerships.
To help communities build a resilient, productive, and inclusive tourism workforce, we share here Develop Workforce Action Plan, one of many checklists available on TourismRecovery.ca, a free resource hub to support the reopening of the visitor economy.
Develop Workforce Action Plan
Identify workforce/labour market information and data to be collected, such as:
- Demographics (e.g., age, population trends, immigration trends, education trends)
- Available job seekers
- Type of jobs available
- Tools and resources to connect people to jobs (e.g., training supports)
- Workforce challenges and opportunities (e.g., barriers, labour or skills shortages, credential recognition for new Canadians)
Identify information to be collected on factors contributing to community workforce planning:
- Economic development goals and related skills and jobs demands
- Available education and training services
- Available housing or other infrastructure needs
- Employment support services (e.g., career development professionals, immigrant serving agencies)
- Potential public-private partnerships
- Available resources or tools aimed at helping connect job seekers to employment opportunities
- Use range of methods (e.g., surveys, interviews, focus groups, web searches)
Review and analyze research findings:
- Compile statistics
- Integrate information from various sources
Develop key recommendations to address workforce needs:
- Seek feedback and input by community stakeholders
- Set economic, social, educational, and employment strategic goals, for example:
- Increase workforce participation of underrepresented groups
- Improve productivity and competitiveness
- Improve quality of employment
- Outline the types of activities and investments to address infrastructure deficiencies, for example:
- Improved education and training needs
- Improved housing options
Develop strategies to achieve stated goals, in areas such as:
- Skills development
- Recruitment and retention
- Diversity and inclusion
Develop action plan, for example:
- Identify outcome metrics (i.e., what you want to achieve)
- Define activities and timeline to meet goals
- Identify needed resources (e.g., expertise, tools, money)
Engage/consult community stakeholders to review and feed into the plan
- Incorporate changes based on the consultation
Implement labour market action plan, for example:
- Secure necessary resources (e.g., financial supports, expertise)
- Present action plan
- Delegate activities
- Develop communications strategy
- Establish schedule to review progress
- Adjust strategies as needed
Tourism businesses are expected to reopen gradually, and as they do things will be different. Not all workers will return, and not all at the same time. Instead, it is more likely that businesses will start with a small number of workers, many part-time, until there is sufficient demand for more workers and the businesses are profitable. In many cases, because of changes in the work environment, the nature of the job will be different and there may be a need for reorientation or new skills training.
Change can be unsettling and cause stress. It is important that tourism operators employ strategies to help employees transition back to work and to new job responsibilities. Ultimately, employers have a need for a more flexible and responsive workforce—one that can respond to evolving workplace and skills demands or severe business disruptions.
To help employers prepare to welcome employees back to work and for the possibility of reassigning workers to new roles, we share here Helping Employees Transition Back to Work or to New Job Roles, one of many checklists available on TourismRecovery.ca, a free resource hub to support the reopening of the visitor economy.
Helping Employees Transition Back to Work or to New Job Roles
WHILE EMPLOYEES ARE AWAY FROM WORK
- Regularly keep in touch with employees while they are away from work (e.g., temporary layoff, extended leave of absence):
- Keep them informed on what is happening
- Answer questions truthfully and respond to possible rumours or misinformation
- Acknowledge difficulties and limitations because of isolation from colleagues and work:
- Find out how they are coping and let them know they can reach out for support
- Promote effective communications—verify they have the rights tools, encourage virtual meetings
- Recognize contributions and successes
- Where changes are expected in the workplace (e.g., fewer workers to start, different operating hours, new operating procedures or expectations):
- Be explicit, honest, positive and accessible, describing why the change is happening, what to expect and when the change will take place
- Explain how the change will be implemented
- Discuss possible challenges and take steps or make resources available to address concerns raised by employees
- Provide fair notice when employees are expected back to work:
- Accommodate needs and be flexible on start-up times (e.g., allow time to arrange for childcare or transportation, where needed)
- Enable employees to continue work at home, where possible
- Address job insecurity, for example:
- Explain plan to retain existing employees, with goal to develop broad range of skills to ensure employees have as many opportunities as possible
- Advise on stages to bring back employees, such as starting with fewer people and more part-time situations
- Where layoffs are expected, give as much advanced notice to affected workers as possible
- Provide placement counselling/make referrals to local career services; provide information about alternative job opportunities in the community and information on how to obtain economic assistance
- Increase availability of workplace health programs and services, such as counselling services, information sessions on maintaining healthy lifestyle
MATCHING EMPLOYEES TO THE ‘BEST FIT’ JOB
- Discuss need to make changes to employee job roles to reflect new work practices:
- Explain process that will be used (e.g., review skills and interests and match workers to the new skills or roles, with added support and training to help them adjust)
- Listen carefully to employees’ concerns:
- Provide detailed resources to reassure employees that you’ve heard their concerns
- If they express fear of change, offer realistic reassurance that additional skills training and supports are there to help them make the change successfully
- Reinforce what the employee currently does well and has previously accomplished:
- Emphasize how these strengths will help them transition to new roles or responsibilities
- Formally or informally assess employees’ skills and interests or aspirations, for example:
- Employee self-assessment
- Supervisor assessment
- Discussion on strengths, successes, areas that could be developed
- Discuss possible needs that require accommodations or consideration, for example:
- Scheduling requests to accommodate childcare schedule or available transportation
- Employees living with someone from a high-risk group (e.g., over 65, existing health problems)
- Discuss potential new skills, tasks or job role:
- Be explicit, answer questions
- Seek agreement on the revised job role and schedule
- Create job description
- Determine professional development or skills training needs:
- Focus on the skills gaps between employee competencies, experience, and qualifications and the target job requirements
- Develop individualized development plan (IDP), for example:
- Prioritize areas of development
- Identify and select development strategies (e.g., assignments, training courses, coaching)
- Identify resources and supports required
- Set milestones and timelines (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly)
- Provide support and guidance:
- Track progress and results
As spring turns to summer and autumn looms on the horizon, many Canadians are looking for a roadmap to reopening. None more so than those who work in the tourism sector. Destination Canada’s recent “Revisiting Tourism” report made three key findings worth highlighting as we edge closer to reopening Canada’s tourism industry:
- Canadians want to travel: while safety is a key consideration in planning travel, data shows high interest in future international travel.
- If Canadians shift two-thirds of their planned spend on international leisure travel towards domestic tourism, it will make up for the estimated $19 billion shortfall currently facing our visitor economy—and help sustain 150,000 jobs.
- Recovery is forecasted to take years, but a significant increase in domestic travel can accelerate recovery by one year.
Part of the recovery of the tourism industry requires reinvention to capitalize on an increased focus on Canadians exploring their own country before travelling abroad. One of the key opportunities presented to Canada’s tourism industry as part of this reemphasis on all things local is to revisit the concept of sustainable Canadian tourism. How can this be realized? By creating a tourism business model that helps other stakeholders within the industry to thrive while leveraging our collective strengths. While much of the dialogue around sustainable tourism may seem environmental, there are also social values and economic impact to consider. So how do you create a business model that benefits others? There is an emerging “new world” of entrepreneurs, reminiscent of “old world” entrepreneurs, who bring a new consciousness to help communities and economies build and grow together through tourism. I was fortunate to recently encounter a tourism reinventionist and am excited to share the story of Landsby with you—a story that embodies this sentiment. A story of transformation; the result of reinvention through revisitation. A story of common tourism goals, driven by passion for the industry, centred around communities working towards shared success.
Landsby is a new Canadian tourism company founded by Jason Sarracini. It centres around providing unique tourism experiences within Canada. Landsby offers custom packages and itineraries based on the interests of the consumer combined with the local business and surrounding environment. The driving concept? To make Canada the destination. There are so many places to discover and experience in Canada, and Landsby strives to uncover that. The word “Landsby” is Nordic for the word village, and the concept of Landsby is rooted in the phrase “it takes a village” —supporting each other to grow and thrive and telling our stories in the hope of inspiring others. And as Sarracini reminded me, the origin of the word “Canada” is in fact derived from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata” which means village or settlement. For Sarracini, the synchronicity is not only obvious, but also pivotal. He says humbly, “I wanted to create something centred on connection, and village, and stories, and opportunities.” And even though “Lands By” is not the formal pronunciation of the name, there is an intention behind the play on words; it packages tourism experiences “by” the locals.
So how did Sarracini arrive here? Let’s start at the beginning. For many of us, including myself, our grandparents offer our first introduction to the hospitality and tourism industry. They epitomized tourism—coming to Canada, travelling throughout the country, finding a place within Canada to call their home. Sarracini’s grandfather immigrated from Italy in the 1940s, after the Second World War, and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He became a leading figure in the Italian community, including getting into media and co-founding CHIN radio. His grandfather observed that as people immigrated to Canada and got settled, they were also longing to go back to their home country, which gave him an idea—he decided to start a travel agency, Ontario Sarracini Travel. Sarracini’s father and aunt shared in this passion and so got involved in the business, a business they continue to run today, with that same underlying and unwavering passion.
Sarracini had been travelling from a very young age, and the experiences he had helped him realize his passion for travel. Unsure of what he wanted to choose as a career, he leaned into that passion—and went to Florence, Italy, to attend a language school. Sarracini notes it was the most transformative experience of his life. He met so many different people, including his wife, and after nine months there, he returned home. But on his return, he brought something back with him—his uncertainty about what he wanted to choose as a career. He joined his father in their family travel agency and started in accounting in the back office. It wasn’t strategic, but in retrospect he says this was the best move he could have made because from the back office he could see how the whole operations of the company worked. They were coming into the year 2000 during his tenure and something else was simultaneously happening in the world: technology and communication was undergoing a revolutionary disruption. Travel and tourism companies started launching websites and offering online packages, ultimately giving consumers a whole new experience that required existing companies to quickly climb on board and adapt to be considered in a competitive market.
In 2004, Sarracini got a group together and cofounded an online travel agency called Target Vacations. He was aware of his big player competitors—itravel2000, Expedia, and Travelocity, to name a few—but he also thought he could do it a little differently and conceived their tagline “we take vacations personally”. While having an understanding of known competitors and offering unique marketing, what he had not foreseen were the unknown competitors. Redtag.ca launched a month before them, and while Sarracini carried on with his company for nearly a decade, he decided he needed to reinvent. Driven by his passion, equipped with vulnerability, and embracing reinvention as a mantra for success, Sarracini epitomized resilience. He used the expertise of his company and explored various partnerships, and when those ran their course and his partners underwent their own transformations, he even explored media. But there was a constant reminder always tugging at his heart—his passion for travel. He wasn’t ready to forsake his destination, he just needed to reroute to get there. He went back to the vast network he met along the way. He understood he was in an industry centered around people, but also one that relied on and encouraged people to support each other. He engaged his networks and was offered opportunities that blended all of his experience and expertise, opportunities that ranged from media and commerce to luxury cruise lines and luxury villas.
Sarracini then decided to do something courageous. He confronted his experiences, his passions, and his beginnings. And he decided to think again. Sarracini states, “I decided I had been disappointed by too many people and I should just be doing this on my own, for myself, how I want to do it. And if I fail, I fail myself.” In January of 2020 he went back to the family business and found a business plan from 2017 with an element of the business on Canada, and had a thought: “We need to do Canada better.” As Sarracini assembled his thoughts and ideas, he was once again facing a revolutionary disruption—COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic. Sarracini notes, “Our family business that had been operating for over 50 years was now not bringing in anything. Like many businesses, you summon every aspect of business you’ve gone through. You read, you try to be open, and you act. The act was I couldn’t control the revenue side, but I could control the expense side. The government had been very supportive with the subsidies and we used that, pushing through with the spirit of this will all come back at some stage, even if not right away.” Sarracini started thinking about what he could do. He had always been interested in the tech side and acted as product manager but never really had the fundamentals, so he decided to go back to school, taking a product management course. He recognized that on the other side of learning is transformation.
For many business leaders, this has been a time of learning a new skill or learning the new norms of operating a business. We are fortunate to have an organization such as Tourism HR Canada actively creating learning tools for our industry—especially those of us who are navigating the path of entrepreneurship during this era of disruption. In fact, just this spring, Tourism HR Canada launched the Business Builders eLearning course. Business Builders is a powerful “how-to” resource to help you start, grow, and manage a tourism enterprise in Canada. The course contains practical tools and guidance on business fundamentals.
Now in build mode, working with his family company, Sarracini decided to go backwards. He revisited a meeting he had with members of Destination Canada in a previous role and recalled being introduced to their Canadian Signature Experiences Program. He states, “I’d always thought it was an interesting angle in Canada, but it needs to be brought to life. I printed off the list of 200 designated partners, went through the list, pulled their contacts, and reached out to every single one of them. I told them this is what we do, I want to create a business that is anchored in this program and I needed to make it really easy for them.” They secured 50 partners and while it did not drive a lot of revenue, it kept them relevant. Sarracini continued to push his idea, next coming to the Canadian Travel Show, understanding the importance of community engagement. He began travelling within Ontario, staying in different parts. While staying at one of the cabins, Sarracini had a revelation: “If this exists here, an hour and a half out of Toronto, this exists everywhere. I’ve travelled so much, but I really don’t know what’s around here.” And it was in this moment that Landsby was born.
So what is it that makes this a unique travel company and how do we motivate people to take advantage of this when so often we think travel and tourism means leaving our country? Landsby is determined to expose the wonderful experiences in our own country, the obvious and not so obvious ones, and making it unique to us, while boasting access to many authentic visitor experiences. Sarracini’s driving thoughts were: “How are we going to get people to stay here? In their minds, they are waiting to go somewhere else. We have to convert those people to spending their money here and convince them to stay here. Even though we can’t tell people to move around, we have to be telling that story now. If you’re going to stay in a cottage, how much are you actually contributing to the hospitality sector? How do we tell the story that we want to spend time in the different layers of the hospitality sector and support multiple people and businesses?” Part of the challenge of the business model is how is Landsby going convey an experience that is not just reselling what’s already being done. And Landsby’s response to this is through immersive experiences and packaging, built around the guiding principle that it’s not just going away to sleep somewhere else, but experiencing the region through the lens of local tourism communities. Sarracini states, “These are distinct from exotic destinations, not meant to be compared. There are amazing experiences that can be wrapped together and presented to Canadians, but that are incredibly difficult to find right now. I think there’s an opportunity to resurface these experiences that people are really looking for that have always relied on international travellers, but that our local travellers could really help and experience and benefit from.”
If we follow Destination Canada’s recommendation to boost Canadian tourism by promoting Canadians travelling in Canada, then we will need all of our tourism businesses focusing on attracting Canadians to Canada. Landsby is contributing to exactly that, being both intentional and thoughtful. Sarracini states “In Canada, I have been disappointed with travel advisors and their lack of ability to turn and look inward. Canadian travel agents should focus their attention on Canada and they’re not. Agents have power. It’s hard to convince someone to stay here, especially when it gets colder. Travel advisors here have not been focused on learning about Canada; they haven’t focused their energy on trying to learn the province they are an agent of. Instead, ask how can I provide value to my customers by showing them what can you do here which is two hours away, a short flight away, a ferry ride away, and make them feel good about contributing to their own. We’re not saying don’t go on your cruise.” It’s hard to argue against this point. There is an apparent undertraining as it relates to the travel industry and advisors, not necessarily related to the technical skills, but rather a deficit in training ‘pride of place’ and training the skill of passion and persuasion. The vision of Landsby and Sarracini’s own desire to give back and contribute is inspiring and something we as Canadians can all learn from and strive for as a community motivated to lift each other through our collective response to adversity.
It’s becoming harder to find these stories of the multigenerational families of Canadian tourism—people who started in the industry, worked their way up, stuck with it because they believed in it, and trained the next generation. We have become a transient business. When we lose our workforce to other industries, we run the risk of losing our collective wisdom, experience, and—mostly—passion. There is no one better to sell a Canadian tourism experience to a fellow traveller than someone who has, themselves, travelled this vast country. Someone who has had the opportunity to absorb and reflect on their experience. One of the core competencies of selling anything is storytelling—a natural skill developed when sharing experiences between generations.
As we work towards recovery, we mustn’t forget to take care of the workforce. If we take care of the workforce, the workforce takes care of our business. The people of tourism are a big part of the circular, sustainable business model—as they grow, we grow. They can exemplify passion and persuasion. If people in the industry are focused on international destinations, then the people in Canada are focused on getting people to have experiences outside of Canada. It requires a concentrated effort to bring the focus to sell experiences within Canada.
The pandemic has led many of us to individually look deep inside ourselves. Remembering who we are, why we do what we do, what we love about what we do, and how we can do it differently and, ultimately, better. Resilience measures our ability to respond to adversity and we develop resilience by facing adversity and learning from it. Not everybody tries to transform or is in a position to pivot, yet there is a richness in the reflective process. The pandemic has certainly allowed for us to explore our immediate surroundings. One thing that resonates about Sarracini’s story was he said, “My grandfather was an incredible people person and a terrible businessperson. He always did what was best for the people but not for the business.” This is relatable personally and across the industry—not only is this is a people-focused industry, but people really are at the core of our businesses. We need to blend business growth with human capital development. Next time you find yourself on a personal or professional road map that says “you are here”, stop and explore where here is. Canada can be the starting point but it can also be the destination. We can go back to the start and discover, and rediscover, where we are. And while we know it takes a village, let’s remember to stop and tour that village along the way. They need our support too.
 Revisiting Tourism: Canada’s Visitor Economy One Year into the Global Pandemic, March 2021
Joe Baker is President and CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening organizations and people at the core of a future-forward hospitality and tourism industry. Joe is a board member of Tourism HR Canada. You can find Joe everywhere @thejoebaker.
By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board Member
We are now well past the one-year mark since COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic. The data, the projections, and the road ahead seem almost insurmountable as we fight towards our next normal. But of course, there is hope. Through the devastation and grief, we have continued to look within ourselves and our support systems for strength and courage. The word resilience has come to define Canadian tourism during the first year of the pandemic. Our industry, our businesses, and our people have embodied author Adam Grant’s definition of resilience: “the strength and speed of our response to adversity”. We have demonstrated immense strength and we have been forced to embrace speed as we responded to the many waves of adversity.
So where do we go from here? What lies beyond resilience? I believe it’s time to focus on reinvention. Reinvention is not scrapping everything and starting again. Nor is it throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Reinvention is about reiterating our original idea—our invention—to create a more powerful and relevant version of ourselves and our businesses. If we want to reinvent tourism, it begins not as top-down policy from government or business strategy implementation. Although those are vital to our recovery, reinvention begins with individuals—tourism professionals embracing the moment and creating new things that centre around our core tourism ethos. And we don’t have to look far to see it happening already.
Along my local travels, I bumped into two people who have embraced that very philosophy. Gaby Saucedo and Mike Karpishka are co-owners of Ottawa Tiki Tours. They kindly shared their inspirational story of transformation with me, and I share it here with you as an example of the potential to reinvent.
Gaby is an insurance broker. Mike has been a children’s entertainer for 30 years. He was instrumental in Mad Science’s early developments and was part of that family for 15 years before establishing his own entertainment company. When the pair met, they quickly discovered their shared interest for the tourism and hospitality industry—an industry neither had experience working in. As it turns out, they didn’t need that experience to enter the industry because they came equipped with something even more potent: an idea and the willingness to embrace change. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, and through their passion and interest in the industry, reinvented their careers and joined the Canadian tourism family.
Scheduled to set sail in May of 2021, Ottawa Tiki Tours provides a new way to experience the nation’s capital. Hawaiian tiki hut-style boats are rented for 90-minute tours that take guests up and down the Ottawa River and can be rented for a variety of different events and social gatherings. They meet Transport Canada’s guidelines, are equipped with all coast guard requirements, are licensed, and even have toilets aboard! With a limit of 12 people per ride, it is also an ideal tourism experience for the current and post-COVID world.
How did two people with no experience in the tourism industry embark on such a business journey? They opened their minds to new ideas and did not accept limitations as roadblocks. About two-and-a-half years ago, the concept of tiki boats in Lake George, New York, was first brought to the attention of the co-owners. They immediately saw it as a tourism opportunity for Ottawa and promptly left the careers they knew for the chance to explore the unknown. The pair checked out the operations and discovered it was a franchise based in Florida. They found someone closer, in Connecticut, selling boats and put in an offer to purchase their first micro-fleet. They now had the idea, the business plan, and the resources.
By fall of 2019, they were ready to launch their business when they found out that the way the boats were constructed was not authorised for Canadian waters. Despite some challenges, they spoke to Transport Canada, who suggested they build their own boats, and that’s exactly what they did. All of their boats are now manufactured in Canada, within the Ottawa region. Once again, they were ready to launch when another disruption occurred: COVID-19. Ever optimistic and hopeful, the co-owners pushed through with their idea, and their perseverance and resilience worked in their favour. They were getting noticed, and even more encouraging was that they were getting bookings. Partnership requests poured in from all over Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the Bahamas. The pair anticipate that by summer 2022, they will have 40 boats in the water across Ontario alone.
What is the bigger tourism picture here? They believe people will drive in for the experience and simultaneously take in Ottawa’s vibrant tourism scene while there. And as they expand, the same philosophy of community tourism applies for any region they occupy.
“We’re a ‘bring-your-own food’ experience, so we want the restaurants to really use that as an opportunity,” states co-owner Mike Karpishka. “If we put our third boat in the water, we are going to use it for re-bookings and to help local tourism or at least the restaurants by saying the only way to get a ticket to the hottest event in town is to buy a $50 meal from one of the local restaurants. Then you will be given a code to buy the tiki tour tickets. We want to deflect some of the attention that’s being put on us and really support every tourism business in the region, because everybody is suffering and we want to help as many small businesses as possible.”
Their excitement for collective transformation and success is undeniable, and their faith and encouragement to prosper in this hard-hit industry is inspiring.
Their business prospects don’t stop at what they themselves own. They are also interested in helping others that want to be a part of their business. Part of that expansion includes selling boats to current operators. They will license one of them for 10 years for their specific existing territory and create a lease agreement as to where the vessel can be operated.
Their advice on how others can reinvent and succeed in this era of disruption? “Even if COVID goes away, the scar of COVID will linger for many years. People are going to stay in their micro-communities. As much as possible, people should try to learn how to pivot, focus, and develop that nimble mentality and think differently. Talk to people, lean on other people’s experiences, utilize social media, connect,” offers Karpishka. Co-owner Gaby Saucedo adds, “Think about your idea of the business and take away COVID. Does it still work? If it does, move it forward. It’s not easy, it’s not impossible, and you have to not give up. Keep trying.”
Accepting change is not an admission of failure. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a statement about embracing transformation and growth. A willingness to be vulnerable. And acknowledging change is necessary to realize that. So, as we move through this pandemic trying to rebuild and refocus, let’s not retreat. Let’s move forward head on. Let’s reinvent our industry, which starts through reinventing ourselves. And let’s not be afraid to rock the tiki boat along the way.
Joe Baker is President and CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a leadership consultancy focused on strengthening organizations and people at the core of a future-forward hospitality and tourism industry. Joe is a board member of Tourism HR Canada and presently working with the team at OTEC as a Strategic Advisor on the Tourism and Hospitality Emergency Recovery initiative. You can find Joe everywhere @thejoebaker.