A woman sits on a sofa looking out the window
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As hotels begin opening their doors to tourists, University of Guelph researchers say there are lessons to be learned from the pandemic that can help the hospitality sector recover from future public health crises.

Dr. Kevin James, Department of History, and Dr. Mark Holmes, School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management, along with history graduate student Jose Gabriel Alonzo wrote a new report, entitled “The Past, Present and Future of the Hospitality Industry in Ontario,” after studying industry impacts during SARS and the current pandemic.

Prof. Mark Holmes
Dr. Mark Holmes

The report outlines recommendations to prepare business operators for another pandemic or local or global crisis. The team recommends that industry members learn about best practices and functions, reassess operations and revenue streams, look for ways to collaborate at all levels and develop contingency plans as a core part of their operations.

“They need to understand each line of their product and loss reports, making sure that they understand ways in which they can reduce labour overhead and costs in a very quick and efficient manner in order to mitigate any losses,” Holmes said.

To make suggestions for the future, the researchers looked to the past. During summer 2020, they conducted an extensive study of press reports from the SARS crisis of 2002-03 and interviewed five affected hoteliers in the Greater Toronto Area.

Researchers found the localized nature of SARS and quick recovery meant that industry players put no long-term plans in place to manage future events.

Dr. Kevin James

“We found in the interviews that of the hoteliers working outside of Toronto, it didn’t impact them to the same degree, so there was this attitude that they didn’t need to worry about it,” Holmes said. “So once SARS ended, they didn’t really put into place any strategies that could help them weather future issues.”

SARS offered valuable lessons on a smaller and more geographically limited scale that could have been profitably used to prepare the industry for this pandemic, they found.

The team identified a number of strategies businesses can follow that will produce sustainable and transformative change in the sector, such as the adoption of new technologies and innovations in revenue management.

“These are vitally important now as the hotel sector positions itself for recovery, as borders begin to reopen and the tourism sector regains its footing,” said James.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, few have been spared the effects.

“What we are learning now is every hotel is experiencing it in every country in the world. The canary in the coal mine was the Toronto hotels in the SARS crisis in 2002-03,” James said.

With studies showing more such events could happen with global warming, the industry needs to learn how to weather them, Holmes said.

This project was supported by the U of G COVID-19 Research Development and Catalyst Fund.


Dr. Kevin James

Dr. Mark Holmes