Ontario businesses to non-locals: stay home

TINA YAZDANI AND NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, Oct 23rd, 2020

The province’s message to people living in hot zones: don’t travel outside your region.

Many businesses outside Toronto, York and Peel have implemented locals-only policies, following the Ontario government’s message to those in hotspots not to travel outside their regions.

“I think in the circumstances that we’re in right now, we really need to listen to the premier,” says Oakville Mayor Rob Burton.

Implementing the policy has been a difficult decision for many entrepreneurs, who are now forced to weigh safety against profits.

In a regular year, much of Stratford, Ontario’s business comes from non-residents who come to town to catch a show at the Stratford Festival, visit the shops, and grab a meal. While restauranteur Jessie Votary would like to welcome in visitors, she says now isn’t the time.

The four restaurants she owns in town don’t take patrons who live more than 50 kilometres away.

“Some people are lovely” when they learn of the rule, says Votary. But “there are some folks that are very, very angry. I get, ‘How dare you?’ ‘Don’t you want my money?’ is another line I hear frequently.”

Her businesses, already taking a hit from reducing capacity to comply with safety rules, don’t benefit from barring would-be patrons.

“Of course we want to see tourists,” she says, “but I also don’t want a global pandemic to last longer than it has to.”

The consequences of a business not protecting against COVID are clear: becoming the centre of an outbreak. A situation that could force their community into Ontario’s “modified stage two” of pandemic restrictions.

David Soberman, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management notes such a rollback would have long-term consequences for regions.

“If we’re not able to get the pandemic under control, it’s going to be a lot more devastating for these regions,” he says, “because the restrictions that will have to be implemented will be tougher.”

Gyms are also taking action. Chains including GoodLife and LA Fitness have asked their members not to travel to nearby cities if they’re from hot zones. Goodlife has even frozen accounts to prevent those in Toronto, Peel or York from booking workouts in other areas.

It may be tempting for those living in COVID hot zones to get out of town, and enjoy some indoor dining where they can, but health officials right across the province have warned against non-essential travel as it could lead to further spread of the virus in regions that are seeing low case counts. It is a hard pill to swallow for areas that rely on visitors.

“In the short term, this is going to be really tough on some of the cities that depend on traffic coming from Toronto, like Niagara, like St. Catherine’s, like the wine region,” notes Soberman.

In fact, without tourists from the United States, some wineries say GTA visitors are crucial for business.

“We’re really thankful for it,” says Doug Whitty, president of 13th Street Winery in St. Catharines, Ont. “People are discovering there’s a really great wine region right in their own backyard; many of them were not aware of it.”

He adds that while there is concern about people travelling from hot spots to visit, his winery has worked on lowering their risk: “We put all the safety protocols in place to deal with customers no matter where they come from.”

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