‘We’ve missed you guys:’ Hospitality businesses in northern U.S. border cities that count on Canadian visitors are near giddiness

‘We’ve missed you guys:’ Hospitality businesses in northern U.S. border cities that count on Canadian visitors are near giddiness
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On weekends when the Bills are playing a home game at Highmark Stadium, Mike Shatzel usually starts hearing plenty of Canadian accents at the bars and restaurants he runs in the Buffalo area.

But, for the last two seasons, the trickle of people heading into Cole’s, Allen Burger Venture and Thin Man Brewing have been pretty much all been Western New York locals.

“We’ve missed you guys. It’ll be nice to have you back,” said Shatzel. “It’s great for everybody. Restaurants, hotels, malls, the Sabres and Bills. This is fantastic news.”

Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. land borders with Mexico and Canada would open in November for fully vaccinated visitors sparked relief and near-giddiness for tourism and hospitality businesses in Buffalo, Detroit and other U.S. border cities that have long counted on Canadian visitors to bolster their bottom lines.

“My phone’s been blowing up all morning,” said an elated Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

In non-COVID times, Kaler estimated that 40 per cent of tourists to the region are usually Canadian. The tourism industry, said Kaler, typically adds $1.9 billion (U.S.) annually to the economy of Erie County, which includes Buffalo.

Seeing all those visitors vanish despite being so temptingly close was a huge blow to the local hospitality industry, said Kaler.

“We can see you from across the river. You’re right there. That was the most frustrating part,” he Kaler.

It was a similar feeling in the Detroit area, whose restaurants, hotels and even grocery stores have long been used to seeing Windsor residents pop across the border for anything from a few hours to a few days.

Looking out from his 10th-floor office in downtown Detroit, Claude Molinari can see Windsor across the St. Clair River.

“Windsor is closer than the place I’m going for lunch,” said Molinari, CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The pandemic, says Molinari, has been devastating for the economy of the Detroit area.

“It’s been almost unimaginable. I could never have conceived of the state we’ve found ourselves in over the last 18 months,” said Molinari, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the Detroit area an estimated $411 million (U.S.) in direct spending on tourism and hospitality.

“Forty-one per cent of all the jobs lost during COVID have been in tourism and hospitality. In Detroit, it’s probably even higher,” said Molinari.

Having those Canadians come back will be vital to kick-starting the area’s economic recovery from COVID, he added.
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