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Pent-up demand for post-COVID-19 travel will be huge

Right now, the responsible and necessary thing to do is to stay isolated and try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. There’s no question we need to focus on keeping ourselves and our families safe, not to mention others who we might unknowingly affect if we are carriers.

At some point, though, we’ll get the green light to start resuming a normal life. Don’t you dream of that day now, a day when we can confidently see relatives and friends, go get a haircut or take off a weekend?

I do. It’s important to be patient, but I really miss the liberties we’ve long taken for granted. And I suspect I’m among the many who are vowing to take full advantage of the freedoms we are denying ourselves now so we can return to normality sooner than later.

Once self-isolation has ended and we’ve found a way to effectively control or stave off the COVID-19 virus, the pent-up demand for travel will be huge.

As confidence grows, some of that travel will be to exotic locations. But basically, we’ll still seek out destinations that are consistent with our own interests and values.

That should lead to a greater emphasis on visits to locales that feature food and food production. That kind of tourism, called agri-tourism, was on roll when it was so abruptly halted. People were finding gems in their own backyards, great food destinations like the many in our area, within a stone’s throw of their homes. They were eagerly looking forward to return visits with good weather approaching.

Ontarians like to travel in their own province. And if historic trends prevail, they’ll do so again when the state of affairs return to normal.

Just before the dominoes started falling – March 4, in fact – the province announced a new round of grants for cultural tourism, more than $462,000 to 11 organizations from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund. The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery was one of the recipients, for an installation there.

According to the provincial government, every dollar invested in the fund generates $1.70 towards “unique cultural tourism events that provide many benefits to communities, small and large.”

Tourism is an area that will need a lot of help to rebound. The province will be wise to keep investing in it, because it supports Ontarians in so many ways – not only those who provide the tourism experiences, but those who engage in them, as well.

According to the province’s own figures, staycations here are huge. Almost 75 per cent of overnight stays in Ontario are residents travelling in their own province. That’s consistent right across Canada, where the strong in-country market accounts for 86 per cent of overnight stays.

And a great deal of that spending – 35 per cent of all Canadian tourism spending – happens in Ontario. So it’s no wonder that receipts connected to the province’s 190,000 tourism businesses top $34 billion. Culture is one of Ontario’s fastest growing sectors, employing more than 280,000 people and contributing over $25 billion annually to Ontario’s economy.

There’s a lot to do and see here, and a lot of money to be spent and earned once people can safely travel again.

So let’s concentrate on our health and that of our friends and neighbours, so we can get out there as fast as possible and enjoy Ontario again. It’s too early to go anywhere, but it’s not too early to dream.

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