As many as 300 travel agencies and tour operators have closed permanently in Ontario due to the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — and there’s likely more to come, says Richard Smart, CEO of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).
“Over the last five years, we had 2,500 agencies in the province. That number has been declining steadily over the years as a result of new business models,” the head of Ontario’s travel regulator said in an interview with Global News.
“However, in the last year, the floodgates opened. We’ve seen about 10 per cent attrition, that’s about 250 to 300 agencies and branches closed business this year.”
Closures in the past year include a mix of small businesses, and branches for big travel chains like Flight Centre and Carlson Wagonlit.
The numbers are reflected in a recent report by Statistics Canada, which found close to 400,000 jobs have been lost in Ontario over the past year, most in the travel and service industries, CBC News reports.
Changing With the Times
As travel advisors across the country continue dealing with rock-bottom bookings, some are re-tooling to be viable at a time when travel isn’t.
Dana Omstead and his wife Helga have kept their agency, Migrations Travel, open in Palgrave, Ont., although they’ve cut the number of employees and are weighing whether their business still needs a physical storefront.
The Omsteads have also adapted their business by starting an online travel night they call “Gourmet Globetrotting”, where they pick a country and match it with a movie, drink, food and a virtual travel tour. For example, their U.K. night saw them sipping martinis and eating fish and chips while watching James Bond, CBC reports.
Peterborough-based owner of Marlin Travel, Mary LaRocque, told Global News she pivoted her business to survive by launching the Travel n Style Boutique, which has wares from local artisans as well as clothing, at the travel agency location.
She says the travel side of her business has started to pick up recently, with an uptick in interest for all-inclusives for winter 2022.
Others in the industry aren’t so optimistic. After receiving only four new bookings since the pandemic started last MAR, Karen Weber decided she had no choice but to shut down her agency in New Hamburg, Ont.
“It’s not the way I intended to end my career. I don’t see any travel for a while,” she told CBC News.
Weber, 70 years old, has spent 34 of her years in the travel industry. Her last working days are spent tying up loose ends with the remainder of her clients, trying to get them refunds for travel credits.
TICO’s Travel Forecast
It’s hard to predict when travel will rebound, given the uncertainty with variants, vaccine rollout and a patchwork of travel restrictions. But the TICO team has been running forecast modelling.
Smart says he doesn’t expect a full recovery until 2023 or 2024 in Canada, as we are more risk-averse than other countries. But when it does recover… “Just watch out. I mean, travel’s going to take off.”