Over The Falls

Niagara Falls political and business leaders have joined the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable (The Roundtable) in calling on the federal government to announce a re-opening plan for Canadians.

With the second consecutive summer travel season now officially in jeopardy, the long-term effects of the pandemic will be severe. Now is the time for immediate action, as many Niagara Falls attractions are in danger of permanent closure.

In Niagara Region alone, 40,000 people count on cross-border tourism to put food on the table. Eighty per cent of Niagara Falls’ tourism revenue comes in twenty per cent of the time. July through Labour Day is disproportionately important to sustain our community; the large number of visitors in Canada’s summer months is able to sustain hospitality and tourism operators through the slower winter travel season.

Cutting that period short even a little bit will significantly impact their likelihood of survival.

Jim Diodati, Mayor of Niagara Falls, pointed out that: “Families in our community rely on tourism and hospitality to put food on the table.  Many of these families have been out of work for more than 15 months.”

Mayor Diodati made it clear that: “It is not just a priority for our sector, but a dire situation for Canadian border cities that a plan be put in place, that relies on science, to open the border, safely, now.”

Right across the bridge in Niagara Falls, New York, businesses are operating at full capacity. In the United States, Maid of the Mist boats are full, when the Canadian equivalent Niagara City Cruises – the number one attraction in the country – is operating at only 25% capacity.

Janice Thomson, President and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, observed that: “Niagara Falls and the surrounding region relies heavily on American tourists every year. We don’t see Americans as international visitors; they’re our neighbours and friends – and together, we operate as a seamless community. Since the pandemic, that wonderful balance has been threatened.”

Thomson continued: “While American travellers don’t make up the majority of our visitors, they provide the vast majority of revenues to our businesses. We are at a point in time where we should be encouraging Canadians and other fully vaccinated individuals to start exploring our country again this summer.”

This past weekend marked Canada Day and the July 4th weekend — typically the busiest travel weekend of the summer — yet Canadian families are still unable to make concrete summer travel plans. Canadian travellers, the most vaccinated people anywhere in the world, are being left out of the travel equation.

Fully vaccinated foreign travellers are still unable to visit Canada, and this is leaving a devastating impact on local business. Right here in Niagara Falls, it seems travellers can explore the globe, but they can’t cross the street.

Paul Burns, President and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, noted that: “Fallsview Casino and others like it are critical employers in the Niagara region, and without immediate action, we are at risk of losing out on a second summer travel season. Canadians are getting vaccinated, and our government should be rewarding this effort by setting out a clear re-opening plan.”

Mory DiMaurizio, Chief Operating Officer, Niagara City Cruises, points out that: “For the first time in recent history, Canada’s top visitor experience – Niagara City Cruises – is about to experience a threatened second consecutive summer travel season.”

DiMaurizio made it clear that: “Our businesses have undertaken significant efforts to ensure that Niagara Falls is a place that is safe to play, safe to work, and safe to stay. With recent progress on vaccinations and significant reduction in case numbers, the time has come for the federal government to provide Canadians with a clear path to fully re-opening, so we can save the summer travel season.”

Although recent announcements from the federal government go some way to answering some of these questions, more policy changes are needed to support the travel and tourism sector recovery.

Despite receiving advice from the federally appointed COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel (the Expert Panel), the federal government has yet to publish a comprehensive re-opening plan for international and domestic travel, particularly around fully vaccinated foreign nationals visiting Canada.

Canadians have been rushing in droves to get vaccinated – breaking records nearly every day. Now it is time for the federal government to recognize and reward these efforts, and provide clear, timely, and safe guidance on re-opening Canada for travel.

And the Roundtable noted in a statement that: “We need to continue to provide incentives for Canadians to get vaccinated, and travel and re-opening the border is top of the list.”