A man walks through a near deserted Convention Centre in Montreal on Thursday, March 19, 2020. The cancellation of business conferences and conventions across the country is costing cities hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues as the COVID-19 pandemic craters the broader tourism industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Plummeting business tourism costing cities hundreds of millions in lost revenues

Vancouver has 84 business bookings cancelled through December amid border shutdowns and bans on gatherings

The cancellation of business conferences and conventions across the country is costing cities hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue as the COVID-19 pandemic devastates the tourism industry.

Tourism Toronto says the city will be down 120,000 business visitors from April through June as major events such as the Collision tech conference are cancelled or postponed, depriving the metropolis of an estimated $250 million in spending.

“Right now we have hotels in the single-digit occupancy range, borders closed and stay-home orders so visitor spending is effectively shut down,” said Andrew Weir, the marketing organization’s vice-president of destination development.

“This is a complete halt to the tourism economy,” he said, with “all major meetings” now nixed.

With virtually no leisure travel, the suspension of all in-person business gatherings is taking a multimillion-dollar bite out of an already suffering sector.

Last week barely 5,000 passengers arrived at Canadian airports from the U.S., down 99 per cent from a year earlier, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended another 30 days

READ MORE: As Canadians return home amid pandemic, border crossings dip to just 5% of usual traffic

Hotel occupancy rates sit below 10 per cent on average, prompting more than 4,100 closures and 250,000 layoffs across the country — 83 per cent of the industry workforce — the Hotel Association of Canada said.

“They’re the people that open doors and clean rooms and do all the things that are so essential to making that stay memorable and enjoyable, so it’s very difficult to see so many people affected like this,” Weir said.

Tourism Montreal says at least 70,000 hotel bookings and $55 million in sales will evaporate in the second quarter after more than 120 business events — including the National Hockey League draft — were pushed back or called off.

Yves Lalumiere, the marketing organization’s CEO, said events with just a couple of thousand attendees can boost the local economy, particularly in the low season, making their absence “hurt” all the more.

Many events have been postponed until 2023 or 2024, such as the 10,000-attendee International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, initially scheduled April. Others such as the International Economic Forum of the Americas’ Montreal conference, originally slated for June, are now on the calendar for December.

READ MORE: Should a vaccine for COVID-19 be made mandatory in Canada, once it’s created?

Vancouver is facing a similar crisis, with 84 business bookings cancelled through December amid ongoing border shutdowns and bans on group gatherings, according to its tourism association.

The ripple effect reaches beyond the hospitality sector to hit small businesses.

“Obviously, hotels and restaurants are affected to their very core,” Weir said. “But the reality is when meetings and conventions don’t happen, that affects audio-visual companies, it affects transportation companies, it affects staging companies and the entertainers, the musical acts and professional M.C.s that are hired to host these events.”

About one-quarter of the $10 billion in economic activity generated annually by tourism occurs in the second quarter, with “nearly all of it” now lost, he said.

Weir worries that while pent-up demand among locals for restaurants, attractions and nightlife will help fuel a recovery once restrictions start to lift, a wariness of travel has set in among would-be tourists that could be hard to shake in 2020.

“We’ve all been in our house for weeks upon weeks, and what will soon be several months,” he said, “but the pace of getting comfortable with moving and flying again just isn’t known right now.”

—With files from Julien Arsenault

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronaviruseconomy

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Langford man battling cancer honored with hot rod, motorcycle procession

Friends and family support Patrick O’Hara on his 73rd birthday

Langford Fire calm mother and daughter after being trapped in elevator

Three-year-old girl given stuffed animal to calm nerves

Langford businesses can expand onto sidewalks, public spaces

Council passes new bylaw supporting business expansion

Capital Regional District prepares to reopen regional campgrounds

Camping will look different at Island View, Sooke Potholes, Jordan River sites

‘Seven baths in two days’: Homeless adjusting to life in hotels

Victoria passes motion to allow camping 24-7 in parks until June 25

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read