Canadian tour operators gearing up for the summer are pressing the federal government to tell them when they can expect the border to reopen to big-spending American tourists.

The government should commit to a date to reopen the Canada-U.S. land border — which has been closed to non-essential travellers for more than a year — in order to help an industry that has been “hardest hit and will be the last to recover” from the pandemic, said Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. 

“The industry has been crushed and we cannot lose another summer tourist season,” Potter told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday, launching a campaign to demand the federal, provincial and territorial governments work together on a plan now that vaccine rates are rising and COVID-19 caseloads are decreasing.

“Medical experts are telling us that we are winning the battle with COVID.”  

Potter’s group says a reopening timeline is needed “before the summer tourism season is lost,” adding that some tour operators will find it difficult or impossible to survive another year by serving only Canadians.

Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours Gray Line, says his industry has done ‘all the right things’ to guard against COVID-19. (CBC)

According to Potter, the average U.S. traveller spends about $500 a day, versus Canadians who spend $100 a day while traveling within the country.

The head of a Halifax-based tour bus and boating company said a little over half of his business is with Americans.

“The United States is our No. 1 market,” said Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours Gray Line.

The waterfront boardwalk is seen in Halifax in this file photo from August 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

He said the company has been preparing to reopen, but described the tourism industry as “literally on the edge of collapse.” Reopening can be done safely with fully vaccinated visitors and other countries are ahead of Canada in adopting that way of thinking, he said.

The border closure was recently extended until June 21.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month Canada won’t be rushed into reopening the border to non-essential travel, even though COVID-19 case counts continue to drop in much of the country.

Trudeau suggested that 75 per cent of Canadians would need to be vaccinated and daily cases would have to continue to decline across the country before his government would be willing to ease travel restrictions. About 62 per cent of Canadians have been given one dose of vaccine against the illness.

More news ‘in the weeks to come’

At a briefing in Ottawa on Tuesday, Trudeau made it clear a single dose of vaccine is not enough to ease border restrictions said the government will have “more announcements to make  … in the weeks to come.”

He said any easing of restrictions would be “focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated,” because “that’s what the science dictates,” particularly when it comes to the new variants of concern.

Potter said there is a “lack of urgency” on the Canadian side for planning a border reopening and that the country has been slow to make any public progress on getting a plan in place.

“Many of our businesses rely on advance bookings, and no one is booking in Canada right now, not with this uncertainty,” she said.

“We need a co-ordinated approach to make sure that visitors feel safe and are encouraged to visit our country.”


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