As Canada confronts an unprecedented wave of wildfires, its once-thriving summer tourism industry is bearing the brunt of the natural catastrophe. Thousands of potential visitors are scrapping their travel plans, and businesses are also bearing the impact.
The flames, which have engulfed a significant portion of the country, are causing widespread disruption to tourist accommodations.
Campgrounds and recreational vehicle (RV) parks, treasured by both domestic and international explorers for their rich natural experiences, are among the hardest hit.
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario’s spokesperson, Madison Simmons, revealed a concerning trend.
“We have had a few conversations with our members and we’re already seeing domestic and international visitors canceling trips,” she said, shedding light on a growing unease among tourists.
This trend closely mirrors a 2018 study by Visit California, which found a wildfire season led to 11% of potential visitors canceling their trips, translating to an economic loss of about $20 million in a single month.
These numbers are particularly troubling for Ontario, where just last month, optimism for growth in leisure travel began to bloom after being hit by the pandemic and economic hardship. Particularly threatened are businesses in the northern part of the province, a favorite hub for outfitters and outdoor tours.
Indeed, for private campground owners and operators of RV parks, the wildfire season is proving detrimental. The rugged landscapes that usually serve as a backdrop for nature-loving tourists have now turned into a hazard zone. The escalating restrictions on access to forests have directly impacted their businesses, which are heavily reliant on the seasonal rush of campers and nature enthusiasts.
In Quebec, the situation has also reached a crisis point. With the province experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, access to forests in several regions has been prohibited.
Dominic Dugré, president of the Fédération des pourvoiries du Québec, disclosed that out of over 500 outfitters operating in Quebec’s forests, 350 have already been forced to close their operations, dealing a significant blow to the local economy.
Further west, in northern Saskatchewan, wildfires have forced an Indigenous tourism conference to be rescheduled.
This disruption serves as a stark example of the indirect impact the fires are having on the wider tourism industry, and by extension, campgrounds, and RV parks.
Simmons indicated that the fires are just one part of a complex issue, with high gas prices and border delays also contributing to the strain on the tourism sector. “We’re still facing a cost-of-living and cost-of-travel issue. It’ll put a further strain on tourism insurance,” she said.
Despite the obstacles, many in the industry are determined to rise from the ashes. While the impact of the wildfires on Canada’s economy is undoubtedly significant, a focus on recovery and resilience will be pivotal in the coming months.
The lessons learned from the COVID-19 recovery can be instrumental here. Businesses that can adapt to these changing conditions, while ensuring the safety and satisfaction of their customers, are the ones most likely to weather the storm. While the path to recovery might be fraught with challenges, the resilience of Canada’s tourism industry may just be the silver lining needed to navigate through this fiery crisis.