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Tourism in Durham seeing promising numbers despite difficult times

DAN CEARNS The Standard

DURHAM: At least one indicator of tourism success is showing the Region of Durham that the local tourism industry is succeeding.

"One way we look at tourism data is through hotel occupancy. Hotel stats are showing a strong recovery for Durham Region. 2022 nearly recovered to 2019 levels, and it looks as if 2023 will surpass 2019 levels. The Region continues to be a destination of choice for families, sports teams, and curious travellers. Great events have been returning this year, for example, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island Pow Wow, which attract visitors to Scugog," Jacquie Severs, the Region's Manager of Marketing and Tourism, told The Standard.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the local tourism sector, and the current economic troubles across Canada continue to play a part in tourism trends.

"The last few years of pandemic restrictions and the resulting economic challenges have deeply and significantly impacted tourism and tourism operators. How and where people have been spending has shifted. There is an increasing interest in domestic tourism and shopping locally, however, which has been a good opportunity for Durham Region. People are looking for escapes from their everyday [life] while also staying closer to home. The cost of flights has increased significantly. With so many pressures for families, being a tourist within a day's drive of home is often a great option, and that means Durham Region, just an hour or two from areas in the Greater Toronto Area, offers a great destination for millions of people," Ms. Severs said.

She also discussed how the Region tracks tourism success. "We use a number of data sources to look at how many visitors are coming and where they are spending time. A couple of examples include hotel occupancy rates, as well as data which tracks downtown or main street areas and where visitors are coming from to spend time in those areas. An interesting statistic for your readers to know may be that in 2022, more than 30 percent of visitors to Downtown Port Perry came from more than 40 kilometres away."

Ms. Severs stressed that continued investment from all levels of government will be key in helping the sector recover and stabilize. "The tourism sector is a major employer and economic contributor to our economy, and investment, funding, support, collaboration, and partnerships from the various levels of government will be important components of continued recovery and growth."

A recent report from TD Bank economists titled 'A Slow Road to Recovery for Canadian Tourism Spending' found tourism has seen a brisk recovery nationwide; the sector now "faces headwinds from higher interest rates, a slowing jobs market, and [a] broader cyclical slowdown in the U.S. and abroad."

"Moving forward, spending is unlikely to surpass pre-pandemic levels before 2025, as several headwinds blow against it. Notably, we expect the Canadian job market to lose a considerable amount of steam beginning in the second half of this year. At the same time, higher interest rates mean households must devote more of their incomes toward debt repayment. These factors will impede domestic tourism spending. Finally, several quarters of sub-trend U.S. economic growth will weigh on spending growth from Canada's largest tourist market," the report stated.

Ms. Severs complimented local businesses for the part they've played in keeping Durham a destination for travellers. "We are seeing growing interest in Durham, and our amazing business and destination operators are to thank for that. Their perseverance through the last few years has been nothing short of extraordinary. One example is our reputation as a great culinary tourism destination is growing," she said. "It's great to see our businesses be ever more 'on the map' when planning day trips."

Moving forward, the Region is continuing to work with local tourism advocates and partners to help the sector keep seeing success.

"We are working with our municipal partners, which include local tourism advisory committees, to continue to advocate for and support the sector and tourism operators. Our partners in supporting tourism in Scugog include the municipality, but also the Chamber, the BIA, tourism business owners and events professionals, and others. Scugog has a community tourism plan which at the Region we support and enable," Ms. Severs explained.

The Region is also currently working on completing a business retention and expansion project in Scugog.

"Tourism is one of the target sectors for the program, and we are actively conducting interviews while working around the times of the year when it makes sense for tourism businesses," Ms. Severs noted.

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