Lawmakers and travel leaders are urging the broader travel industry to make their voices heard: this U.S.-Canada land border closure must end now. The consequences have been dire for tourism, particularly in Canada where there's been zero recovery since last year's shutdown.
As destinations around the world have been safely reopening to fully vaccinated travelers and restarting their tourism industries, the lock between the U.S. and Canada — two of the most interconnected countries at the human, economic and tourism level, has been a source of great aggravation.
Open up the border. That was the gist of a renewed plea on Thursday from a joint U.S. and Canada panel, this time featuring U.S. congressional and Canadian parliamentary members, as well as travel industry leaders, moderated by U.S.-Canada relations expert Huw Williams and hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
“Our economies are very much intertwined and we benefit from Canadians coming to patronize our sporting events, our ski resorts and festivals and vice versa,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs (D-NY) who represents a district along the border.
“The complete lockdown we’ve experienced is not consistent with science and it’s very, very bad for our economy.”
Jacobs noted the Northern Border Reopening Transparency Act he introduced this month and emphasized an equally harrowing human element to the border closure, noting that his daughter has not seen her Canadian grandmother in 16 months.
Canadian Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said that some hesitancy to reopen was understandable but that the science was clear now to adjust restrictions, particularly given the guidance from Canada’s Covid task force.
Beth Potter said that Canada’s public health leaders recommended that once the country reaches 70 percent of first-dose vaccinated and 20 percent with two-doses then restrictions could ease. “Well, we’re gonna get there this week – that’s how well the vaccine rollout has been going.”
Panelists also praised the U.S. announcement on Thursday that it was donating a million of Covid vaccines to Canada so that vaccinations continue to progress.
Lack of Government Resolve And Focus
Panelists shared the opinion that there seemed to be a lack of focus on the impact of a continued U.S.-Canada border closure on the economy and on the travel industry despite pleas.
Congressman Jacobs confirmed that the Biden Administration has not said a thing despite an executive order requiring a report on what was being done on a binational basis to have a reopening plan.
“Every day that is delayed is a day that people will make travel plan to go somewhere else. We need real change and clarity, and I know we’re coming up on the June 21 date and… I really, really hope it’s not more of the same.”
Susie Grynol, president and CEO at Hotel Association of Canada, made a passionate case for the ongoing decimation of the Canadian hotel tourism sector, particularly local hotel owners, and the possibility of them losing yet another summer of tourism revenue.
“These [hotel] owners are at a breaking point. The last member survey showed that
70 percent of our membership of hotels in Canada will not make it to the end of the year without government support,” Grynol said, adding that the consequences would be the loss of critical infrastructure and what that means for communities who rely on tourism.
“Our hotels are empty and they’re dying.”
U.S. Economy Losing $1.5 Billion Per Month
Tori Barnes, vice president of regulatory affairs at the U.S. Travel Association said that the U.S. Travel Association’s two current priorities was to bring back business meetings and events, and international travel as the domestic leisure uptick cannot make up for losses on the international and business fronts.
“Each month that travel from Canada remains at a standstill, the U.S. economy loses $1.5 billion in potential travel exports, which is enough to support 10,000 American jobs and each week the U.S. loses $340 million,” Barnes said.
Barnes added that while the global task forces created this month were a positive step, the U.S. Travel Association doesn’t think the expediency is there and that Canada’s planned loosening of quarantine requirements should be coupled with a full reopening of the land border.
For Potter, the urgency lies in particular with respect to tourism jobs lost and small businesses.
“We have displaced over half a million people from their jobs and we need to get them back to work,” Potter said, noting that the government had made family owned businesses in particular tap into their savings to stay afloat, and take on debt for longer than necessary.
“They’re gonna be paying for this pandemic for a very long time and every month that the border remains closed means we are adding costs directly into the pocketbooks of these businesses.”
Potential Solution: Unilateral Reopening from U.S.
Congressman Jacobs suggested there have been discussions on the U.S. side that if there’s yet another extension of the June 21 border closure deadline, then a solution could be to advocate for at least a unilateral reopening of the land border from the U.S. to Canada, but that it would be up to Biden administration.
Canadian Parliament Member Erskine-Smith stressed the unfairness of Canadians who could afford flying out to the U.S. while land travel is treated differently and harms working Canadians with families on the border. Congressman Jacobs agreed, noting that there’s no science to that at all and the fairness issue is profound and must be addressed.
Barnes said that while the U.S. Travel Association would continue its multiple advocacy efforts, a broader industry needed to engage and be part of the effort to push for a reopening.
“Travel from the key European markets as well as Canada are still registering declines 98 percent below 2019 levels. So from our biggest trading partners and our closest allies we’re having the most significant declines in international inbound travel – it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not based on science.”
Losing Summer Would Be Devastating Blow To Canada Tourism
Grynol said there wasn’t enough appreciation for the importance of summer for Canada’s tourism economy, and that 75 percent of the tourists who visit Canada in the summer season are international visitors. Of those, 50 percent are Americans,
“We’ve sacrificed a lot in the travel industry. No one is suggesting a wild wild west approach here,” Grynol said. “But there just doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency that this is an issue we need to solve. There’s so much at stake here.”
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Photo credit: U.S.-Canada land border must reopen to fully vaccinated travelers so as to save tourism economies, a joint travel and lawmakers' panel said. Davy Landman / Flickr Commons