By Tim Kalinowski
Southern Alberta Newspapers
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada is calling on the Trudeau government to commit to border re-opening on a firm timeline and a concrete plan which will allow tourism businesses and operators to get back to work this summer.
“For about 15 months the international border and the border with the U.S. has been closed,” explained Tourism Industry Association of Canada President Bev Potter, “and tourism businesses have been under severe restrictions as far as operating. So with the changes we are seeing as far as COVID cases going down, number of people vaccinated, and number of people that are doubly vaccinated going up every day, the science experts are coming out and saying it is time to start lifting some of the restrictions. What we have asked of the government today is to give us a hard timeline. Our businesses need a plan to re-open, and they need time to ramp up and rehire, and communicate with their customers to get those bookings going. We would like a plan, and we would like a timeline.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government might have considered easing some border restrictions by June 22, but Potter says Trudeau was short on details in his comments to the media about this. She and her stakeholder businesses would like to see something much more concrete.
“As far as I am aware, in listening to the prime minister earlier today, he has not made any other commitment other than June 21 is the date the current border closure order ends,” she explained. “But it has been the 21st of the month for each of the last 15 months, and so until we hear from him more details as far as what the re-opening looks like we are still sitting in the dark.”
Potter says her members accept the fact there may have to be some ongoing health restrictions as they get their businesses up and operating again, but they need a comprehensive plan from the government so they can understand how to work inside those restrictions.
“We are sensitive to the fact there are still matters at hand that need to be looked after, and the health of Canadians needs to be a priority,” Potter acknowledged. “But there can be a way we can still re-open the borders for all kinds of travellers. Whether it is a combination of proof of vaccination, proof of immunity, as well as those who aren’t vaccinated testing and contact tracing. These are the recommendations that have been made by the government’s own expert advisory panel.”
The impact of current public health restrictions and border closures have had a devastating impact on the Canadian tourism industry, says Potter, which has borne more than its share of the job and revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time to get things open again, so those businesses can try to salvage what remains of the 2021 tourism season, she says.
“We have lost a quarter of the jobs that were related to the tourism industry in Canada,” she stated. “One out of every four jobs lost due to the pandemic was related to tourism. Tourism business owners and operators from coast to coast want to get back to work, and this (border re-opening) is one of the key ways this will happen for them.”
In 2019, the Canadian tourism industry welcomed 25 million visitors from the United States which generated about $10.5 billion in revenue. After the land border was closed between Canada and the U.S. that number dropped to only about 3.99 million visitors in 2020.