Travel to the USA/Canada does not recover. And officials on both sides of the border are worried | local news

Crossing the Peace Bridge on Canada Day, or the Fourth of July, a decades-old tradition for people on both sides of the border, remains an intricate challenge this holiday weekend.

The Canadian government last week extended until September 30 a requirement for visitors to fill out their confusing ArriveCan app for Covid-19 concerns and as a result the summer tourism season appears doomed for the third straight year. Reluctant travelers, it seems, just don’t want to deal with ArriveCan.

Canada eases entry requirements at the border

The US-Canada border will open slightly wider starting Monday as Canada eases its requirement that most visiting children be vaccinated and abandons its mandate for vaccinated visitors to submit a quarantine plan just in case they contract Covid-19. 19 fall ill.

Now, officials and advocacy groups in Buffalo, Fort Erie, Ontario, Niagara Falls, NY, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, and beyond the 3,000-mile mark are voicing concerns that border on outrage. Local economies dependent on cross-border transport continue to suffer restrictions that long ago became unnecessary as Covid-19 levels ease.

One of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, Niagara Falls still flags anemic cross-border visits due to requirements that include entering vaccination status and exact travel destinations into the app. The Peace Bridge Authority and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission report falling traffic revenue, which is about half of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The same goes for duty-free shops. And many travelers looking to renew regular visits across the border simply look to other alternatives, put off by Ottawa’s ongoing demands.

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“At a time when most people are returning to some semblance of normalcy, frontier communities across the U.S. and Canada are nowhere near where they should be,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. “This is the start of the 2022 travel season and we still have all these redundancies and roadblocks that we need to get rid of.”

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Higgins has become one of the policy’s most vocal critics, even raising the issue with Canada’s prime minister and his ambassador to Washington. He says the latest statistics show a drop of 70,000 vehicle crossings per month at the Peace Bridge, proving travelers are avoiding cross-border trips because of the ArriveCan requirement. The border experience, he says, only works if travelers can cross with little effort and in a reasonable amount of time.

“All of that has been taken away,” Higgins said, noting that travelers are avoiding the hassle of ArriveCan. “People will just do other things.”

His concerns echo in Ottawa. Niagara Falls Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli is furious after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government extended the requirement for the duration of the summer. He points out that 40,000 people work in the tourism industry in the Niagara region, that summer accounts for 75% of annual sales, and that 50% of visitors to the region are from the United States

“So why create this incentive for our American friends to come over?” he asks. “It is unbelievable that this liberal government continues to ignore this. Instead, she continues to use barriers like ArriveCan that tie the tourism industry one hand behind her back.”

Ottawa announced on Wednesday that the ArriveCan requirement will continue, daunting hopes of many on both sides of the border for an end in time for the bank holiday weekend. But Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Covid-19 remains a problem.

Canada is changing testing rules.  Cross-border commuters are still dissatisfied

As of Monday 12:01 a.m., people entering Canada will no longer be required to provide proof of a negative PCR test for Covid-19. Instead, they must demonstrate that they have passed either a PCR test or an approved rapid antigen test performed by a laboratory.

“As we move into the next phase of our Covid-19 response, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over,” he said in a statement this week. “We must continue to do everything we can to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus.”

But Baldinelli, a member of Parliament’s International Trade Committee, points to transcripts from the recent hearings in Ottawa that underscore concerns from across Canada. Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told the committee that tourism spending was down 50% from pre-pandemic levels, overnight foreign travelers were down 89% and the industry lost 400,000 jobs have . She estimates that Canada’s tourism industry may not return to 2019 levels until 2026.

Potter also reminded the committee that proof of vaccination is no longer required on public transport, in stadiums or in restaurants across the country.

“Travel and tourism is the only industry that still has restrictions related to participation in the activity,” she said. “Not every other industry in the economy.”

Mayors from Canada’s border communities, including Jim Diodati of Niagara Falls, Ontario, also join the choir. He told Canada’s National Observer at a news conference in Ottawa last month that the need to use the app or online portal for the Canada Border Services Agency has outlived its usefulness.

“We all supported the federal government with all the restrictions at the border,” said Diodati at the time. “But science is now telling us that having these restrictions on the border no longer serves us.”

In addition, the two international bodies that regulate the border crossings across the Niagara River fear major financial problems if normal traffic does not resume soon. Ron Rienas, general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, said crossings remain 44% below normal even after the Canadian government lifted testing requirements in April. Similar declines are reported by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, he said.

“So people don’t cross the border, even though they can,” Rienas said.

In a submission to Parliament last month, Rienas said the ongoing requirements would have “a devastating impact on our toll revenues, the tourism industry and other border-dependent businesses like duty-free shops”. He said most US travelers are unfamiliar with ArriveCan and often have to comply with requirements at the border, resulting in excessively long processing times and backups.

Rienas also told parliament that the technology discriminates against seniors unfamiliar with computers and smartphones, discouraging those familiar with a border community from discretionary travel.

“The essence of this binational community is to frequently cross the border to visit friends or family, to dinner, to a show, to a wine tour, to a baseball game, to shop, to the beach, etc., without the process and the “File with ArriveCan every time,” he said. “People just won’t bother crossing the discretionary travel line like they’ve been doing for decades.”

Higgins, meanwhile, noted that the decline in bridge traffic is also affecting U.S. interests, including airports in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, pro sports franchises and retailers used to a binational economy. He suggests that Trudeau and President Biden personally discuss solutions to the problem, as efforts below their level have so far failed.

“After all,” he said, “we are not enemies.”