Our one-of-a-kind tourism industry is being put to the test but it is very resilient. Let’s take a look at the issues and solutions.
On June 22, 2020, President and CEO of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Emilio B. Imbriglio shared the screen with Liza Frulla, General Director of the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec (ITHQ). They talked about the issues facing the tourism industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of the ITHQ in this particular context. (Watch the online video for the full interview.)
The recipe for tourism: volume and talents
Liza Frulla is very optimistic about the resilience of the Quebec tourism industry which she believes stands out worldwide. And those who are passionate about the local tourism industry will help boost it up.
“It’s an industry filled with talented people. In terms of restaurants, Quebec is considered as the food capital of North America. There are small jewels […] in major cities like Montréal and Québec City, but also across all regions of the province. That’s what cements our culinary reputation and attracts tourists,” she says.
However, we must still be aware of the new challenges brought about by the pandemic. “Volume is important for tourism. And the rural regions might pull through better than Montréal because business tourism and the cultural sector are concentrated in the big city,” Liza Frulla points out.
She goes on to say that when it comes to restaurant owners—contrary to other industries—many started their business with love money. That presents certain difficulties, especially in getting endorsements from a financial institution. According to Liza Frulla, restaurants don’t just need financial support; they could also benefit from a complete review of the economic dynamics of the system that governs them.
The client experience and restaurants
Social distancing measures imposed by the Quebec public health authority will no doubt have an impact on the client experience. Liza Frulla believes that we must play the game and consumers must tell themselves that they can overcome those restrictions through their desire to go to a restaurant, to go out, and their imagination.
The Restaurant de l’ITHQ reopened for three weeks, with two professional chefs and their final-year students in the kitchen. Liza Frulla uses this example and points out that they have downsized from 64 seats to 32, and a Plexiglas shield separates diners from separate households dining at the same table. The teams are of course required to wear a face mask and a visor.
“We’re testing it out and developing a number of training webinars. The ITHQ is a leader in the industry; we take our role seriously.”
Let’s enjoy Quebec!
Despite the situation, Liza Frulla emphasizes the positive aspect of the crisis. It’s an unprecedented situation that’s giving us a chance to rediscover our beautiful territory! “You can be at a beach in Gaspésie, there’s the Bic, and Charlevoix is incredible. There’s nothing more beautiful than summer in Quebec!”
There is some apprehension about the Quebec government’s decision to inject $753 into supporting tourism in the province. “This help will take the form of very attractive loans. The industry says “great, thanks,” but if we’re not sure to make it through the fall, we’re not sure we want to go into debt again.”
According to Liza Frulla, the $20 million announced for Quebecers looking to vacation in the province is good news as it will help generate the volume needed for the economy to run smoothly and drive tourism across Quebec. “The SEPAQ is giving discounts to encourage you to visit the province. It’s an agreement of historic proportions. We want to motivate you to travel within Quebec and to make that a habit.”
What needs to be improved and what needs to be done
Despite the fact that a number of real estate and hotel owners, especially in business tourism, are Quebecers, Liza Frulla advises that they shouldn’t throw in the towel and let our real estate fall into the hands of foreign owners. She is adamant that we do not want to become tenants in our own home.
When the firm’s President and CEO asked what needs to be done to ensure the long-term survival of organizations, the ITHQ General Director answered that “fixed charges and taxes have always been the issue: a tax holiday and a fixed charge holiday would be most welcome.”
Tourism and the hotel and restaurant industry have major economic repercussions on many Quebec regions. What’s the first thing she’d do if she were a municipality mayor? “Mayors should be saying: I will do everything in my power to promote tourism in my town, in my region. We cannot survive without tourism.”
Regarding major events, in Montréal for example, Liza Frulla believes that we should go back to holding large-scale events, which would mean quicker financing as soon as possible. Regroupement des événements majeurs internationaux (RÉMI) has already requested that a federal emergency fund be set up for that purpose.
The role of the ITHQ
Liza Frulla says that as a hotel management school, they “will continue to focus on management and research. The ITHQ is the only establishment in Canada that offers three different program levels (secondary, college and university). With our two research units, we serve tourism in the broadest sense.”
Due to COVID-19, the ITHQ has developed online training in the form of webinars. The school strongly encourages the use of digital technologies. “We work with every sector of the tourism industry. We try to help. It’s our mission to raise the industry’s professional standards.”
According to Liza Frulla, the pandemic has tuned governments in to the importance of tourism and shown that every job in the industry is profitable to society.
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