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Eastern Ontario tourism leaders plan for post-pandemic comeback

At its peak, eastern Ontario attracted about 5.2 million tourists annually, but the COVID-19 pandemic reduced that number by almost one-half and local tourism leaders are meeting to devise strategies to return the industry back to a leading economic driver for the region.

The COVID-19 pandemic had severe impacts on the tourism businesses not only in Ontario but across Canada in general.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the industry, an average of 5.2 million visitors were drawn to eastern Ontario and they spent more $565 million in the region, but the last two years saw that number dramatically reduced.

The industry has been recovering since restrictions were eased and because tourism has emerged over the last decade as one of eastern Ontario’s most vital economic sectors, the annual 'OH! Tourism Summit' is taking shape as one its most important meetings for all those involved in the industry and the 500,000  residents who have come to rely on the economic spinoffs from the beleaguered industry.

Members of Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) will bring together leading tourism operators and professional staff with a goal to create and promote strategies to help the industry not only bounce back, but return and thrive since there are signs of improvement and growth.

The focus on responsible and sustainable tourism is the theme of the upcoming 'OH! Tourism Summit & Annual General Meeting' coming up on Nov. 2 beginning at noon.

OHTO is one of 13 regional tourism organizations (RTO) and it includes Renfrew County, Lanark County, Frontenac and three other local counties. Together, OHTO is made up of five counties with 45 municipalities covering 23,840 sq. kilometres. The region went from a high of six million visitors spending more than $565 million to just over three million visitors making their way to the area in 2020.

There is no denying the vital role tourism plays in local economies with more than 3,400 tourism related businesses employing over 36,000 residents. That amounts to 23 per cent of the overall economy. In the case of the Ottawa Valley, tourism has emerged as the third leading economic driver behind the manufacturing and forestry sector.

The pandemic has also ushered in the concept of hybrid meetings and the summit is taking advantage of this technology by offering a number of hybrid sites for participants given the geographic size of OHTO’s membership.

This year's 'OH! Tourism Summit' will take place in a hybrid format, allowing anyone in the industry to join either in-person or virtually. Summit streaming sites will be hosted in Renfrew, Golden Lake, Perth, Cloyne, and Minden.

This will allow participants to receive the same summit experience whether they attend in-person or online, providing excellent opportunities to connect and network with tourism operators, learn from peers and industry experts, enjoy interactive experiences, and get the latest scoop on highlights from current activities. 

"We are so excited to be leading the way as a region both in terms of the openness of our industry to participate in new modes of communication and the level of commitment towards achieving a more sustainable and resilient future", says Nicole Whiting, Executive Director of OHTO.  "These past couple of years have been tough, but we are looking forward to celebrating our collective achievements and our inspiring future on Nov. 2."  

Conference highlights will include keynote speaker, Kelsey Johansen, a leader in sustainable recreation and tourism, as well as an industry panel of experts and trendsetters in sustainable tourism.

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