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Local tourism industry gets $1.2 million boost from feds

'We have a unique chance to help tourism businesses not just recover but come back stronger and better, equipped to succeed in the new economy,' says official

The local tourism industry is getting a much-needed financial shot in the arm to help it recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marie-France Lalonde, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, announced a non-repayable FedDev Ontario investment of $1.2 million to support the tourism industry’s recovery across the counties of Grey and Simcoe and the cities of Barrie and Orillia during a virtual press conference today (June 8).

The investment is providing tourism-dependent businesses with up to $20,000 to support costs associated with adapting and eventually reopening - to fund things such as renovations and retrofits, the purchase of equipment, fixtures and personal protective equipment (PPE), and support for technology and digitization.

The fund is expected to support 100 businesses and maintain 225 jobs, officials say.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis it’s been clear Canada’s tourism sector has been hit hard," said Lalonde. "Many business owners have been working hard to adapt and survive to the next season."

She noted that in tourism sector-centred communities, these businesses are not only a source of local jobs, but also local pride.

“We are taking action to help businesses protect these jobs to keep these communities vibrant. Grey and Simcoe Counties, as well as the cities of Barrie and Orillia, are resilient and have a lot to offer," said Lalonde. "People here are proud of the area’s cultural and natural attractions, and enjoy sharing them with others.”

With nearly 9,200 tourism-oriented businesses in Grey and Simcoe counties that depend on the more than 10 million visitors to the region each year, funding for recreational businesses in these regions is vital, she noted.

“The recent budget recognizes the impact of COVID-19 for tourism, in particular, and outlines a number of measures to support the recovery of this important industry with a $1 billion investment over five years,” she said, adding this includes $500 million over two years for the tourism relief fund for local tourism businesses to adapt their products and services to (meet) public health measures, recover from the pandemic and position themselves for growth. 

She said $200 million, over two years, is meant to support major festivals and events.

“We have a unique chance to help tourism businesses not just recover but come back stronger and better, equipped to succeed in the new economy," said Lalonde.

The Regional Tourism Organization 7 (RTO7) for Grey and Simcoe counties has received the FedDev investment of  $1.2 million to support the local tourism industry, stated LaLonde.

This funding for local businesses will serve as a much needed investment in helping local businesses recover, noted Bill Sullivan, chief executive officer for RTO7.

“We’re pleased that FedDev Ontario joined our team and invested $1.2 million to assist the tourism industry (to) combat the impact of COVID on our local economy,” he said, adding the industry has taken a real beating over the last 14 months.

Sullivan said many local businesses have been forced to shut their doors and thousands of residents have either temporarily or permanently lost their jobs.

“Businesses that were recipients of the (investment) were able to re-imagine and execute their new business with the assistance of this funding. These businesses are now better situated to help lead their communities out of this economic downturn," said Sullivan.

Meaford-based electric violinist Victoria Yeh, creator of Travel by Sound, is one business in the region that has been assisted by the funding.

Yeh said over the course of the pandemic, she was able to successfully monetize virtual concerts through online ticket sales by producing a high quality and unique virtual concert series.

“It has preserved my brand equity which will be critical once live events start again,” she said, adding during the series not only would viewers get to experience a quality concert, she would also take them along fly fishing, kayaking, snowshoeing and on other adventures across the region, adding locals would tell her they didn’t know such things even existed in their own backyards.

“Thanks to this support, I have employed over 30 Canadian musicians, techs and crew members, earned feature coverage in 18 editorial print and radio outlets (and) earned over 800,000 social media impressions and 15,000 website users,” she said, noting this has allowed her to keep her personal brand relevant and top of mind with her base audience while also growing her audience.

It also allowed her to  gain valuable skills in audio and video editing, web design and technology solutions as well as to build a new private teaching studio which now boasts over 20 students from Edmonton to Halifax.


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About the Author: Nikki Cole

Nikki Cole has been a community issues reporter for BarrieToday since February, 2021
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