Campaign launched to open border

By Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed for over a year now and with no American traffic, tourism businesses in the region and across Canada are suffering.

On June 8, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) held a meeting to announce they are launching a campaign, calling on the Canadian government to plan and set a date for the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border before the summer season is over.

David McKenna, Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) chair, said the tourism industry was the hardest hit by the pandemic and will be the last to recover. He adds that the industry cannot afford to lose another summer tourist season.

“With vaccinations rising and cases going down, now is the time to pivot to more forward-thinking policies and reopen the border to end the extreme financial stress that has flattened the industry and devastated the tourism economy in Canada,” McKenna said.

McKenna said the federal government’s expert advisory panel on COVID-19 testing and screening released a report, stating that there needs to be changes made to the border policy to reflect the progress made in fighting the pandemic. The report specifically mentioned ending the hotel quarantine system, because it is ineffective and not applied consistently.

“We know that people have been able to fly to the U.S. for vacation and not needed to quarantine upon arrival,” McKenna said. “However, at the same time, only a limited number of essential workers can cross the border. It just doesn’t make sense.”

McKenna stressed the importance of the government taking action in reopening the border to give tourism operators and businesses time to plan, prepare, hire and train their staff.

Many tourism businesses rely on advanced bookings, McKenna said, adding that tourism businesses and employees across the country have worked hard to ensure all products and experiences meet the proper health and hygiene regulations.

Tom Pearson, owner of Camp Narrows Lodge in Fort Frances for 36 years, said the government should at least let people who have a reservation and are fully vaccinated come over the border. He adds that he is prepared to accommodate them any way he can, as long as he has some business this summer.

“They’re all willing to stay in their cabins. They’re willing to not mix with the other guests that are there, they’re willing to do anything,” Pearson said. “All they want to do is come up and fish.”

The lodge is open from May to November. In a normal season, Pearson said Camp Narrows would be at full capacity, seeing about 700 guests in total. Because all of his clientele is American, the lodge went from 700 guests per season to zero in 2020.

Other speakers at the meeting stressed that a plan is key, as some parts of the country are ready to open up more than others. As well, it requires planning from the U.S. to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

There were also some concerns about how the tourism industry is going to approach the issues of unequal travel requirements across the U.S. as some states do not require people to be fully vaccinated to travel.

Beth Potter, president and CEO of TIAC, said the expert advisory panel outlined a real process on what that looks like coming into Canada.

“Fully vaccinated travelers would be able, by their recommendations, to cross borders. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated would require some testing,” Potter said. “And that’s something that the industry can get behind.”

Potter said at this point they are not advocating that business owners would take on the onus of testing or checking for levels of vaccine, – that would be done at the port of entry.

Prior to the pandemic, the tourism industry represented a $109 billion a year industry and right now, it is averaging about 50 per cent of that.

“They’ve already had one summer of zero revenue. And with borders closed, we’ll still see another summer of zero revenue,” Potter said. “The industry is ready to welcome U.S. visitors back and we know that.”

Pearson said he already has Americans calling to reserve a spot and that if the border was to open up tomorrow, he would be booked up.

Pearson adds that having the border closed is also a loss for students looking for a summer job.

“People need jobs,” Pearson said. “There’ll be lots of jobs if we reopen. All the university students will get their jobs instead of sitting at home.”