The owner of two live music venues in Toronto says it’s “welcome news” that the Ontario government has announced that it will invest $100 million in the province’s tourism sector to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Well, the announcement itself is very exciting because we’re part of the hardest hit part of the pandemic, first to close and among the last to reopen, and we’re still in semi-lockdown,” said Jeff Cohen, president of Collective Concerts and owner of Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern.
“Anything that the province, or federal government, or the city hands out to live music clubs, or venues, or promoters, or anyone in the music industry in Toronto that is hard hit by the pandemic, or other sectors, like restaurants and tourism operators, is welcome news,” Cohen added.
“Of course, we really don’t have all the details of how they are handing this out. Is it a competition? We don’t have all of the information, but obviously, seeing as though the province of Ontario is still in Stage 3, we can’t do normal business, and our rent still has to get paid and electricity and gas. Any money is a good thing.”
Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod said Monday the money will be distributed through the new Tourism Recovery Program, which will help for-profit tourism businesses in the attraction, accommodation, and leisure travel sectors.
“The last 18 months of the pandemic have been the most challenging Ontario’s tourism industry has ever faced,” MacLeod said in a news release on Monday.
“Previously an economic powerhouse for the province, tourism has been hit by the triple threat that COVID-19 represents — a health, economic and social crisis.”
MacLeod said the funding will help support regionally significant businesses, while protecting jobs in communities that rely on the tourism industry.
Eligible tourism businesses include inns and lodges, boat tours, ski centres, live performance venues, cinemas, drive-in theatres, and amusement and water parks.
The province said the program will support tourism businesses that have experienced a loss of at least 50 per cent of eligible revenue in 2020-21 compared to 2019. Applications for the program open on Oct. 13.
‘This is badly needed’
According to Cohen, Lee’s Palace is running at a loss of about 90 per cent of eligible revenue from pre-pandemic levels, while the Horseshoe Tavern, because it has a front bar and outside front patio, has a loss more in the 80 per cent range. He said Lee’s Palace, a money-making business, was “devastated” by the pandemic.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “This is badly needed.”
Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of Destination Toronto, an organization that markets Toronto to world travellers, agreed that the money is welcome.
“This is very important funding that will certainly help a lot of businesses get to the next stage. It doesn’t solve all the problems. It doesn’t take us to very end. And I think the minister knows this,” Weir said.
“She’s been working very closely with the industry and listening a lot to what the businesses have been telling her and we see that reflected in the kind of policy announcement today.”
‘It’s a good way to start the week’
Kevin Nichol, president of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association, said its members shut down voluntarily in March 2020 and had to lay off nearly 9,500 employees last winter. About $160 million was lost in revenue in the sector.
“It’s great news today. We’re happy to be receiving some support from the provincial government. It’s a good way to start the week,” said Nichol, whose organization represents alpine and cross country operators across the province.
“It’s been a tough, tough hit, but we’re looking forward to a brighter season ahead.”
As for the Mirvish Productions, it laid off 500 employees when the pandemic hit. It’s set to reopen in early December with a production of Jesus Christ Superstar for the holiday season.
“We may, in our very early performances, all be wearing masks. But I know that we’re going to celebrate having our freedom once more and being able to be at work once more and be employed,” David Mirvish said.
Those receiving funds through the program can apply the money to staff salaries, health and safety measures for workers and visitors, and marketing expenses.
“Program funding will help successful applicants prepare to reopen safely, develop innovative tourism products, retain and create tourism jobs, and support tourism recovery in their region and throughout Ontario,” the government said in the release.