TORONTO -- As Ontario continues to ease restrictions some small towns near the Greater Toronto Area are preparing for the return of tourist this summer, but are also banking on staycations to help struggling businesses rebound.

In Northumberland County, an hour east of Toronto, local tourism agencies are focusing marketing efforts on local residents for the second summer this pandemic. 

“The reason for hyper-local is because some of the surveys we have access to are telling us we need to rebuild consumer confidence again, people need to know they will be safe when visiting,” said Nancy Allanson with the Trent Hills Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has launched campaigns on social media encouraging local residents to rediscover the region and visit destinations and businesses tourist have frequented in the past. 

“To really ensure we’re ready to greet visitors and not to create any health challenges going forward.”

In Port Hope, the Capital Theatre is planning for the possibility of outside performance, which will be allowed in part of Step 2 of the provinces re-opening framework. 

Prior to the pandemic, the theatre hosted five productions during the summer season, with as many as 200 shows. Tourists are a big draw, but until restrictions further ease, the outdoor performances will cater to locals. 

“For The theatre to be successful it does require tourist,” said managing director Erin Peirce. “At this point, I also want to keep the community safe - so engaging the local community to come out and see us outside this summer is where we hope to be.”

The hope is to market productions towards tourist again when indoor performances will be allowed to resume. However, before any performance is staged, Peirce is still waiting for clarification from the province on capacity limits.

“What we are hoping for is a percentage base reopening plan that will allow us to open on a percentage of our audience which will be more sustainable.”

Despite the staycation marketing efforts, there is an expectation that people are eager to travel whether it be a day-trip or a vacation. 

In Cobourg, Victoria Beach reopened on May 31, after the town closed it to public last summer due to Covid-19 concerns.

“It’s a seasonal town and if we don’t have that beach we do lose a lot of business,” said John Ibrahim who manages a restaurant directly across from the beach. “We’ve got a lot of making up to do, we were shut down four months in the first lockdown, two months in the next and then two and a half months - it’s critical.”

However, the Town has implemented several measures to prevent overcrowding, including limiting capacity at 1,200 people and the beach will remain closed on weekends. 

On the shores of Lake Simcoe in Georgina, the chamber of commerce has been helping businesses prepare for an influx of tourists. 

“It’s naïve to assume people won’t be travelling – we saw that last year with provincial park here in having 90 thousand more cars in 2020 over 2019,” said Jennifer Anderson, the executive director of the Georgina Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve also prepared businesses and let them know that visitors will be coming and as long as we’re following all protocols and safety measures than we can welcome visitors in and that’s good for our economy”

Local tourism officials also promoting self-guided tours to destinations and businesses that are open. 

“We’ve been hanging on by a shoe string,” said Alicia Dubrawski who just reopened her boutique in Jackson’s Point after closing it in February. 

“We’ve unfortunately been languishing because last summer was definitely really miserable we had no tourists - we had a lot of beachgoers but they are not our customers, we rely on people who are coming by boat and staying at the cottages and resorts.”