August 17, 2020

No vacancy: How Blueprint is using evidence to spur recovery efforts in the tourism and hospitality industry

In mid-March, as the spread of the novel coronavirus was gaining speed, governments closed borders and put it in place travel and other restrictions. Flights were grounded, tourist attractions closed and events cancelled. The move had a swift and devastating effect on Canada’s hospitality and tourism sector.

Thousands of jobs were lost. Although employment in the industry has edged up in recent months as provinces have started to reopen, it was down by 25 percent in July from the same month a year earlier, according to Tourism HR Canada. Many of those affected were young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

The Future Skills Centre (FSC) is investing $2.25 million in a project to equip tourism and hospitality workers in Ontario with new skills. The project was launched in partnership with OTEC — Ontario’s leader in workforce innovation in the tourism and hospitality industry — and an alliance of its stakeholders including the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, the Hospitality Workers Training Centre, Tourism HR Canada and Tourism SkillsNet Ontario.

As part of the FSC consortium, Blueprint is leading efforts to generate evidence and develop insights that will inform rapid-response interventions for tourism and hospitality workers whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic. The other consortium partners include Ryerson University’s Magnet and the Conference Board of Canada.

How can data and evidence help guide the recovery?

The evidence and data that are generated as part of this project will be crucial for an industry that is expected to feel the effects of the pandemic for some time to come. Ongoing restrictions barring visits from most international travellers and other health and safety requirements will continue to affect the sector’s ability to recover, according to a report by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario. It estimates that the until the COVID-19 outbreak is resolved and international travel is able to significantly resume, the loss in annual spending by international tourists in Ontario will reach $11.4 billion.

Evidence generation starts with figuring out the right questions to ask and answer, and identifying what outcomes to measure. It includes ongoing monitoring of participant experiences, and using the information to drive continuous improvements to the programs and services being tested. And it ensures that the voices of those directly affected are heard and remain central throughout the entire process.

We believe that adopting flexible, agile and participatory approaches to evidence generation can help inform and accelerate effective recovery efforts. Blueprint is collaborating closely with other organizations to leverage data and evidence in creative ways to ensure program responses are agile and evidence-informed.

Rapid-cycle evaluation strategy will guide continuous improvement

As part of the Rapid Response in Times of Disruption project, Blueprint has designed surveys and is analyzing existing data sources to learn about the skills and background characteristics of displaced workers, to gauge the extent of displacement in the sector and the speed of recovery, and to gain insights into the services, supports and training interventions that displaced workers seek. Our innovative human-centred design approach will provide timely and relevant insights that will inform the design of an online service-delivery platform and support long-term regional recovery planning in collaboration with local partners.

Blueprint will provide technical assistance to support OTEC as it develops and maintains a registry of displaced tourism workers, and a central information hub to distribute news and information on income supports, government benefits and training opportunities for workers.

Once these initiatives are up and running, Blueprint will use a rapid-cycle evaluation strategy to generate up-to-date evidence to guide the continuous improvement of the programs and services being tested.

As Canada’s economy shifts into recovery mode, data and evidence can play a crucial role in spurring recovery efforts by shedding light on what’s working and where we are falling short. The lessons we learn from this project will help workers in other industries as well, and ensure that the economy as a whole bounces back stronger and more resilient.