Could Canada open its tourism to countries where COVID-19 is under control? Devastated by closed borders, some tourism industry operators think so

Could Canada open its tourism to countries where COVID-19 is under control? Devastated by closed borders, some tourism industry operators think so
Ordinarily, Frank Daoust would be getting ready to welcome another group of American tourists to his Memquisit Lodge , and giving them pointers on the best spots to reel in pike, walleye and bass.

But now, thanks to COVID-19 , his Lake Nipissing fishing lodge is almost half empty, with his usual crowd from New York state, Ohio and Pennsylvania kept away because of the closed international border.

“I was here through 9/11 when people were reluctant to fly for a while, and SARS, where some of the Americans didn’t want to drive through Toronto, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Daoust, who estimates he’s only pulled in about 15 per cent of the revenue he had at this time last year.

“Maybe, if we have a good July and August, we can get up to 20 or 30 per of our total revenue for the year, but that’s a best-case scenario right now,” said Daoust.

While 40 per cent of his visitors are usually American tourists, they account for 50 per cent of his revenue, Daoust added.

“That’s $350,000 I won’t be seeing this year,” Daoust said.

Still, Daoust understands the need to keep the American border closed.

“I was kind of hopeful until I started to see what was going on with the outbreaks in the U.S. I mean, if people came up and started bringing COVID-19 to this area, we’d have to close back down and it would be even more of a disaster,” Daoust said.

For Kathleen Shattock, who runs Prince Edward County-based tourism and event management company Beacon Hospitality with co-owner Derek van der Vinne, the idea of opening borders isn’t particularly appealing, given extensive COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S., and logistical issues if someone from further afield were to bring the virus to the county.

“Can you imagine trying to contact trace back to Europe? No thank you,” said Shattock.

Besides, Beacon’s six Airbnb properties have already been booked solid, since the province allowed rental properties to open in early June.

“We booked up the entire summer in three weeks,” said Shattock.

Still, it hasn’t exactly been a banner year, Shattock said, with almost no revenue coming in during March, April and May. And the company is also keeping its properties empty for at least 24 hours between each reservation.

Even if the U.S. border doesn’t open, Canada should still be allowing visitors from other countries, says the head of a tourism trade association. This week, the European Union announced it was opening borders to visitors from 15 countries, including Canada, but not the U.S., Brazil or Russia.

“If we can get the border opened by the end of the year, that would be great,” said Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario.

Potter, whose association is also part of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, knows that there might be little political or public appetite for any kind of border opening at all, but still hopes the federal government will consider it soon, as part of a list of relief measures the industry has been calling for. (Some have already been granted).

“I know it’s going to be a hard sell. But there are countries where safety measures are having an impact, and those are countries we’d like the Canadian border to be open to,” said Potter. “We’re not trying to do this in a vacuum.”

“Decisions about Canada’s border are made by Canadians, for Canadians. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have been having friendly ongoing conversations with our American partners about our shared border. Both sides agree that the current measures in place, which are set to expire on July 21, have worked well in restricting non-essential travel while allowing essential crossings to continue unimpeded,” said Alexander Cohen, spokesperson for federal Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly, the minister responsible for tourism.

In the meantime, says Potter, businesses are busily trying to rejig their marketing to appeal to more local customers.

“It’s going to be a hyperlocal season,” said Potter, adding that many Ontario vacation spots have the kind of appeal that could be an advantage during COVID-19.

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“Outdoor experiences and activities are going to be more important than ever,” Potter said.

“As we move forward, we’re working closely with the tourism sector to identify gaps in this response and fill them,” Cohen said.
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