SUDBURY -- Canadians are going to be key in supporting the recovery of a devastated tourism sector.

That from Destination Canada, which has released new research on the roles Canadians will play in helping the country's operators.

"We've seen this building over the course of the year and for most tourism operators, the summer is the most important season," said Marsha Walden, president of Destination Canada. "Knowing that our summer last year was as weak as it was, we continued to monitor things, but it's always a stark reality when you roll up the year."

Sustain thousands of jobs

Destination Canada's research found that if Canadians shift two-thirds of their planned spending on international leisure travel to domestic tourism, it would make up for a $19-billion shortfall the pandemic created.

It would also help sustain 150,000 jobs and accelerate the recovery by one year.

"Coast to coast to coast and central Canada, every community has something to offer and we find tourism everywhere," said Walden. "It's an industry where the engine is entrepreneurs."

The report also shows the breakdown of how it would help the economy. One in every 10 Canadians jobs is tied to tourism, with small- and medium-sized businesses making up 99 per cent of the sector.

Unemployment rates remain the highest out of any sector -- 6.6 per cent above the national rate at the end of 2020 -- and despite projected growth, current forecasting for 2021 still places tourism and related job growth 30 per cent below 2019 levels.

"I implore Canadians to make the choice to travel in Canada this year, I cannot imagine anyone would be disappointed with what they find in their own backyard, we're really, really lucky in this country to be surrounded by such incredible beauty," said Walden.

May already be happening

There are some indications that might already be happening in northern Ontario. Shannon McMullan wasn't even sure if she was going to open Perivale Gallery in Spring Bay last summer, and was pleasantly surprised by the demand she was seeing in online traffic and phone calls.

She's now adapted her business to summer visitors who are able to safely visit, given pandemic restrictions.

"We were overwhelmed by first-time visitors to Manitoulin Island," she said. "So many of them were here for the very first time and I asked why they chose to come and they said well we can't go anywhere else and we wanted to come someplace north and relatively safe."

McMullan said there were even lines at one point out the building. She's adapted her Twitter handle @ManitoulinMagic to promote some of the beauty the Island has to offer.

It's a similar story in Temiskaming Shores, where Nicole Guertin is hoping Ontarians will explore the north this summer.

"We have this window of opportunity for this year, that people might consider doing something else," said Guertin. "We've seen people reserving camping sites, reserving chalet, so in general I think people are looking up north."

She's one of several people helping to promote tourism experiences in her corner of the region.

Both Guertin and McMullan are hoping that momentum will continue when it comes to tourism this summer.