NOTO calls for July border opening

By Natali Trivuncic
Staff Writer
ntrivuncic@fortfrances.com

Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) held a press conference yesterday on behalf of the resource-based tourism industry, to call on the Canadian government to open the Canada-U.S. border on July 22 to fully vaccinated American and global travelers.

The conference also allowed for tourism owners to share their struggles of staying open over the last year.

NOTO executive director, Laurie Marcil, said over the course of the pandemic they have been

advocating for financial support and guidance on reopening to help these businesses manage through the provincial and federal restrictions.

Marcil adds that while the government programs have been bridges to help get through the year, they are not enough to sustain these businesses for much longer.

Ryan Runge, the new owner of Slate Falls Outposts in Sioux Lookout, said he was able to run one full season before the pandemic started and was hoping for another successful season last year.

“In 2020, I had 155 groups booked, nine of those groups were Canadian-based. This would have been over 850 people booked and with the border not opening, I will have around 50 people booked over my whole hunting and fishing season,” Runge said.

Runge said like many tourism businesses, the government programs have not been helpful to keep business afloat. He adds that staycations are a great idea, but it is not possible for businesses in northwestern Ontario to rely on local clientele to stay open.

“We need clarity, we need the chance to run our businesses and we need to support the Northern Ontario economy like we’ve done for decades,” Runge said. “We need the border open as soon as possible, because we won’t be here without it.”

Executive director of Destination Northern Ontario, David MacLachlan, echoed the impact the resource base tourism sector has faced over the last year adding that they have been operating under some form of restriction over the last 16 months.

“From the research that we did last winter, the resource-based tourism sector experienced a 91 per cent revenue drop and that goes as high as 97 per cent, not in the Northwest,” MacLachlan said. “A lot of operators, again, from the research that we’ve done, have exasperated all of their personal resources, their business resources, and on average have taken on more than $100,000 worth of new debt.”

MacLachlan adds that this sector will rebound quickly but in order to do so, the border reopening cannot be pushed back any longer.

Another business owner that voiced their struggle over the last year was Carol Anniuk, co-owner of Youngs Wilderness Camp for 30 years.

Anniuk said this camp means everything to her, adding that it is not just a business but a way of life.

“I have guests that have been coming here longer than I’ve been here and I truly miss them all,” Anniuk said.

Anniuk said the majority of Youngs Wilderness Camp’s business is from the US and nearly all of the bookings that were canceled last year were rolled over to reservations this year. She adds that they are now canceling all those reservations under a state of uncertainty.

Like many business owners, Anniuk said she wants to know how to plan going forward.

“The waiting is exhausting. Am I going to have any business this year? Do we hire staff or not hire staff? Am I going to be able to get the staff since we’re a seasonal business and half of my season is over by July the 21st? What do I tell my guests about their upcoming trip? And all this uncertainty, and the lack of a long-term plan from the government makes me feel like I’m really dying a slow death.”

Annuik said those who are fully vaccinated should be allowed to cross the border.

Marcil said the government needs to move ahead with plans to reopen the border and they need to do it quickly.

“This industry cannot sustain any further closures. We have two to three months left for most of these businesses to generate revenue in this season,” Marcil said. “Many of them have not had any revenue since fall of 2019.”