For some Canadian tourism businesses, the long traffic lines at the border were a welcome sight after 16 months of not being able to make money from U.S. tourists.
Long delays were reported at the border on Monday as Canada finally opened to fully vaccinated American tourists for the first time in 16 months, causing a rush of travelers during the busy summer season – and bottlenecks for a desperate tourism industry.
Government data showed a seven-hour wait for the Fort Frances, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota, crossing. Fort Frances advertises itself online as “rarely experiencing delays.”
Several crossings in Ontario and New Brunswick – between the states of New York and Maine – had waits of three hours.
Canada barred all leisure travel from the United States in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as of Aug. 9 fully vaccinated Americans are able to enter the country.
International travelers who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter in early September.
Late on Friday, the Canadian government and border staff reached a tentative deal to end a strike that began earlier in the day and caused delays even before Americans began arriving.
Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Canada’s biggest, has also asked travelers to brace for delays as American leisure travelers return.
Canada’s partial reopening comes just as new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States hit a six-month high.
Prior to the pandemic, tourism was the fifth-largest industry in Canada, contributing C$105 billion ($83.4 billion) to GDP and providing one in 10 jobs, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
The border reopening, however, and the rules surrounding it may not be enough to save Canada’s outdoor tourism sector.
Hunting and fishing lodges in remote parts of the country – most of which rely on American tourists for business – are reporting cancellations of people who do not want to get fully vaccinated or comply with the 14-day quarantine.
“We wish we would have been able to open a month ago, and we wish that now that we are open the rules were easier to understand,” said Dominic Dugré, president of the Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations.
Remote lodges are struggling to accommodate the multiple negative COVID-19 tests required of travelers.
Ken Gangler, 61, has owned three lodges in Manitoba over the past 37 years. The current one is 370 kms (230 miles) from the closest road, and accessible only via air.
“We’re scrambling to open up but because there was such little notice from the government, the airlines don’t have planes on the routes,” he said.
Gangler’s son and his partner paid C$3,900 ($3,103.37) for two round trip airline tickets from Orlando, Florida, to Winnipeg, compared with C$1,300 before the pandemic.
“People don’t want to pay these astronomical air fares,” Gangler said, adding that staff shortage is another issue. “It’s impossible to find staff because who wants to go to work for a month and a half?”
($1 = 1.2567 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dan Grebler)
Photo credit: Traffic jams similar to this one from earlier were typical on Aug. 9,. 2021, as Canada reopened its border to U.S. travelers. Dennis Sylvester Hurd / Flickr