'This is terrifying': Northern Ontario tourism operators calling for more help during pandemic
SUDBURY -- Stakeholders say several Indigenous and seasonal tourism businesses are facing permanent closure if they don't get immediate support.
According to Nature Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO), more than 1,000 seasonal lodges, resorts and campgrounds across Northern Ontario are currently struggling to survive in the current pandemic.
While owners are grateful for some of the work that is being done, they say the small business relief eligibility prevents many of them from being able to apply early for the various wage subsidy and loan programs.
"We are asking our federal and provincial governments to focus on funding that will have a meaningful impact toward the survival rate of this industry," said Bob Garson, NOTO president in a release.
One of the groups that is expected to be hard hit, is that of Indigenous tourism.
Experts say the sub-section of the tourism industry is still relatively new and they fear many are at risk of losing their livelihoods.
"They're entering their season and getting prepared for what will be very likely bleak tourism results, they're looking at losing 80 to 90 per cent of their revenue streams this summer. They are trying to just simply survive these trying times," said Kevin Eshkawkogan, president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO).
Eshkawkogan says ITO is currently in a rescue phase with these businesses and has been working to provide them business support broker assistance, helping them navigate the various programs that are out there, but says the need is simply too great.
"A lot of these businesses are fairly young and fairly new and they don't have the track record to access these support programs that are out there right now and simply surviving the summer is a critical issue for them," said Eshkawkogan.
He tells CTV News while they are grateful; the help has been limited in terms of targeted Indigenous tourism support.
"The demand on our business support brokers - we can't meet the demand," said Eshkawkogan.
"There is just simply too much help that's needed."
One of those businesses that is trying to navigate the story waters ahead is Mukwa Adventures and its owner Arthur Trudeau.
"This is reality and the forecasts show there's going to be 80 per cent of them shutting down, this is terrifying, that's a lot of peoples' bread and butter, they've invested a lot of time, money and effort into this, their dreams, their visions and now the reality of this COVID-19 pandemic closing all of these doors for them, it's terrifying," said Trudeau.
Trudeau says he wasn't able to keep his staff and he's lost his entire summer.
He's also been re-branding and working on some partnerships with other businesses in hopes that there may be strength in numbers.
"I know it's not going to pick up immediately, a hit like this, operating costs are very difficult and we don't have the funds," said Trudeau.
"Small businesses don't have the funds."
Another business that's writing off its entire summer and looking to next year is Island Sunrise Cottages - Fishing and Hunting Outfitters on M'Chigeeng First Nation.
"We're shut down and what's happening to travel, even to Manitoulin, is crushing businesses all over the island," said owner Neil Debassige.
"The island population is anywhere from 12-15,000 in the off season and then that catapults to 45,000 in the summer time. We are home to the mom and pop tourism business and it's essential to our economy here."
Debassige says without that influx of tourists, even those just coming from the Sudbury area, their business grinds to a complete halt.
"We're trying to make our plan on losing the whole season, right and from the First Nation perspective, we don't know if those travel advisories or travel bans like M'Chigeeng put into place, a restriction for outsider cottagers, to come onto the First Nation and similarly in Wikwemikong," said Debassige .
The business owner adds they haven't received anything yet and the packages that are being offered through the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) and ITO are a good first step and it will alleviate some of the burdens they face in overhead with things like insurances.
"One of the things that we're focusing at Indigenous Tourism Ontario is ... we're already looking to the future and we're looking at how we can recover from this and how we're going to come out of this for next year in 2021 in a resurgence phase and beyond," said Eshkawkogan.