It will take years for Saskatoon’s tourism industry to recover, according to Stephanie Clovechok.
The CEO of Tourism Saskatoon recalled the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic around the time the 2020 Juno Awards were about to be held at SaskTel Centre.
“We were preparing ourselves to welcome the Juno Awards … in fact, come March, everything was set up, stages were ready, the artists were in town, all of our partners were readied with all of their offerings and then the world kind of collapsed,” she said.
“Here in Saskatoon, I don’t think that any of us were expecting that impact and quite quickly after the Junos were cancelled, we heard that our first (COVID-19) case had arrived.”
Since then, Clovechok said 2020 has been a year like no other for the sector.
“I think that the best way to describe what’s happening to the tourism sector here in Saskatoon, in Saskatchewan and in the world is an unprecedented collapse or total decimation,” Clovechok said.
“I would say that challenging is an understatement and (Saskatoon) was starting off 2020 coming out of our strongest year ever and so we had an increase in visitation from international markets in 2019.”
Clovechok said the cancellation of the Junos alone was a $9-million loss to the local economy.
“Here in Saskatchewan … when we think about the overall business events, impact is probably close to $400 or $500 million in our economy,” she said.
“And that’s just the direct impact. We’re not talking about all the retail sales that would have happened or all of the gasoline that would have been purchased or all of the municipal and provincial sales tax that would have been garnered as a result of those business events taking place in our city and in our province.”
Clovechok called what the industry is experiencing “scary” and said Tourism Saskatoon is doing everything it can to advocate for financial support from all levels of government for its sector.
“This is startling and it’s getting worse … it is very real that we may not have the festivals that make our city the vibrant and healthy place that we know and love,” Clovechok said.
“When many people ask me questions, ‘What does the tourism mean to a community?’ And my response is … ‘Do you enjoy taking your kids to the jazz festival or going on the Prairie Lily or being able to walk on trails that are clear and beautiful?’ That is all a direct result of the tourism sector and all of those things are at a drastic risk of being lost forever.”
Clovechok said there is light at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of the first COVID-19 vaccine in the province but there’s still a long road ahead.
“It’s not going to be until at least a year after the vaccine has been fully administrated that we’re going to be able to see all of the (COVID-19) restrictions taken away, possibly, and, at that point, we’re looking far into 2022 for even a potential return to gathering or return to travel the way that we once knew it,” she said.
“What we really know is that we will not see 2019 levels of tourism until at least 2024. So this is a long-term recovery and that’s why things are so dire for us right now.
“I think that it’s a hard pill to swallow when we wake up every morning with survival at the heart of what we do. And I commend our business partners right now for everything that they’re doing because it’s thankless and they’re not sleeping and they’re doing everything that they can to stay alive (financially).”
New retail restrictions in effect in Saskatchewan
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