Outfitters call on federal government to reopen Canada-U.S. Border to fully vaccinated Americans
“Tourism was hit first, the hardest hit. “
That from David MacLachlan, executive director of Destination Northern Ontario in Sault, speaking to a group of concerned northern Ontario tourism operators in a virtual presentation on Tuesday.
“The industry has been under extreme stress since the start of the pandemic. We’ve been operating in some form of lockdown or restriction for almost 16 months, ”MacLachlan said.
Although MacLachlan said he was encouraged by the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine and a declining number of COVID-19 cases, he and his fellow tourism officials are calling on the federal government to reopen the Canada-U.S. Border to fully vaccinated Americans and to other international travelers July 22.
Much of Northern Ontario’s tourism industry depends on American fishermen and hunters who head north of the border to take advantage of what the region has to offer.
Campgrounds, parks, hotels, motels and cottage rentals, as well as sporting events and festivals, have suffered a devastating blow due to the pandemic-induced border closures.
Typically, a million Americans visit northern Ontario each year and spend half a billion dollars, generating $ 150 million in taxes for all three levels of government, MacLachlan estimated.
While the federal government has encouraged Northerners to “visit their own backyards” in terms of tourism due to the border closures, MacLachlan said “there just aren’t enough fishermen out there. the line in Ontario to replace the fishermen coming from the United States ”.
“We have a short season. We have three months left in this season at this point. While the (government assistance) programs have been helpful, we know from research we did last winter that there has been a 91 percent drop in income in the tourism sector based on resources, and that’s up to 97 percent in the northwest.
“A lot of operators have exasperated and used all of their personal, business resources and on average incurred over $ 100,000 in new debt,” MacLachlan said.
“This sector is close to my heart. My family has been in the business for 65 years… I think everyone thinks it’s time to start, ”MacLachlan said, speaking to SooToday.
Noting that the US economy is starting to reopen and infection rates are declining in Ontario, MacLachlan said that “what we are asking for is not an automatic extension of these border closures, but making efforts to ensure that these border closures are extended. ‘open instead of just putting the decision every now and then. It doesn’t help anyone.
“I have 75% of international travel (mostly from US tourists)… I went from 95% occupancy to 15%,” said Susan Crane, owner / operator of Cranes Lochaven Wilderness Lodge (French River, Ontario ), adding that his American customers have indicated their wish to visit his lodge, ready to be tested for COVID at the border.
Crane said many of its U.S. customers are maintaining reservations for this summer, hoping the border will open in July.
“We don’t know if the border will reopen in August. We hope so. If not, our numbers will be significantly lower (for the second consecutive season) with a significant loss of income, ”said Crane.
“The monthly border agreement (Canada’s current practice of extending the border closure one month at a time) must be scrapped,” said Carol Anniuk, owner / operator of Young’s Wilderness Camp in the Lake District. Woodland.
While Anniuk said she understood the health concerns related to COVID-19, she said she was “exhausted” from waiting for the border to reopen despite compliance with COVID restrictions.
“The lack of a long-term government plan makes me feel like I’m slowly dying,” Anniuk said, saying that while she isn’t asking for the border to be wide open to unvaccinated Americans, she feels vaccinated. Americans and other international tourists should be allowed to enjoy tourism in northern Ontario.
“I know the government’s response to this will be the possibility of the Delta variant, but I also know that the vaccines we use appear to be beneficial in combating this as well. There will always be variations. We must learn to live with COVID. We cannot live in a bubble forever, ”Anniuk said.
Federal government assistance, largely in the form of low-interest loans, has been made available to tourism industry operators throughout the pandemic.
However, Laurie Marcil, Executive Director of North Bay-based Nature & Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO), said: “Right now what we’re asking is that more of these loans be made. refundable. Originally, part of these loans were repayable. “
“Now that we are facing a second season of massive losses, we are looking for more of these loans to be repayable and we are also looking for longer time frames to repay these loans if they don’t. make more of them forgivable, ”said Marcil.
Hopefully, Sault-based David MacLachlan said “this industry is one that will bounce back quickly, but for that to happen, the border has to open.”
“We really need the government to hear these stories. This industry cannot support further shutdowns. We have two to three months left for most of these businesses to generate revenue this season. Many of them have had no income since 2019, ”said Marcil.
Marcil highlighted projections that 70 percent of Ontario residents will be fully immunized by July 19, 75 percent of all Canadians by August 1, in order to encourage reopening of the border.
“The time has come,” said Marcil.
Marcil said correspondence expressing concerns from northern Ontario tourism industry operators, along with recommendations, has been sent to the federal government.