New website to help out camp owners And hopefully boost number of U.S. tourists

Partners gathered at the Civic Centre last week to launch a new website dedicated to answering frequently-asked questions and, hopefully, increase the number of border crossings here.
Jerry Fisher, owner of Grassy Narrows Lodge and vice-president of the North Western Ontario Tourism Association (NWOTA), said it’s a relief to see the website——up and running.
“Canada has its laws that [U.S. tourists] have to be aware of,” he said Friday. “But this takes the burden off of us, as the seller of the trip, to ask the person who wants to buy a trip whether or not he has anything in his background that could result in an embarrassing situation at the border.
“Right now, we sell a trip,” Fisher added. “[But] he comes, finds out there’s going to be a problem at the border, and gets turned away.
“We’re trying to circumvent asking our guests for personal information.” Fisher stressed. “That’s basically the only reason we’re doing it—to get the monkey off our back and make them aware that Canada has different rules than the United States.
“It’s something the government should have been doing all along,” he remarked, adding the federal and provincial governments might spend millions on promoting tourism, but have failed to inform those wanting to come here of the regulations of our country.
“Nowhere else in the world do you have to worry about getting turned away because you have a DWI,” Fisher noted.
Geoff Gillon, economic development officer for the Rainy River Future Development Corp. here, noted the website project may have moved forward by leaps and bounds in the last three months, but the idea was first pitched to Canada Customs and Immigration several years ago.
However, the partners—namely the NWOTA and Kenora District Campowners Association (KDCA)—soon found it was far too difficult to work through all the red tape involved in getting it going. As a result, nothing came out of it.
“There was no mechanism for the camp operators to come up with these questions. We just kind of stumbled upon them,” noted Gillon. “So we thought, ‘OK, let’s create a border website with questions and answers that are vetted through Customs but managed by camp operators.
“It’s a good focus for a dialogue,” he added. “So now, when anything changes, Customs can talk to NWOTA and KDCA people and make changes to the website.”
Gillon said the website was set up as a “local initiative” under the RRFDC’s mandate, with funding coming through FedNor. “It helps us move our strategic plan forward for economic development in the district,” he said.
But Gillon also admitted this website is no cure-all in addressing the problem of the falling number of U.S. tourists coming over the border at Fort Frances.
“It’s the first step in removing obstacles and making it easier,” he noted. “But it’s a long road. I was looking at the stats from the Ministry of Tourism and they’re frightening the heck out of me.”
According to the latest numbers from the ministry, U.S. entries to Ontario fell by around 6.2 million people (or 35 percent) between July, 2001 and July, 2005. In other words, Ontario’s U.S. market has been reduce by more than a third.
“The Americans are staying away. It could be the border, it could be money, it could be fuel costs,” said Gillon. “I think the next step is for them [the Ministry of Tourism] to determine why.
“But one of the reasons we know would be the border, and we’re trying to make it better,” he added. “We can’t change 9/11. We can’t change the security. But we can allow them the opportunity to have some of their questions answered before they reach the border.
“It makes it easier for the operators because they can say, ‘If you’re coming up, read this before you go.’
“And it makes it easier for someone looking to come because once we get all of the websites populated with this link, they’ll look at it, and learn what to bring, what not bring, and so on,” he explained.
Local Canada Border Services Agency Superintendent Kim Beaudry, who will be working with NWOTA and KDCA to keep them updated on any changes to border regulations, agreed the website should be helpful.
“Hopefully, it will make the public more aware,” she said Friday.
Some examples of questions answered on the website include:
•What identification do I need to cross the border?
•I have a minor criminal offence on my record. What should I be concerned about?
•What do I need to bring my firearms into Canada?
•Can I bring a pet?
•What about insurance?
•What food am I allowed to bring into Canada?
•What is prohibited to bring into Canada?
•How much liquor/tobacco can I bring into Canada?
The website also features links to the CBSA’s home page as well as info on border wait times, Environment Canada (invasive alien species), and the Ministry of Natural Resources (hunting and fishing regulations), to name a few.