Niagara businesses eager to welcome U.S. visitors back as border reopens after more than a year

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Businesses in the Niagara Region are eager to welcome American visitors back for the first time in more than a year as restrictions at the border ease on Monday.

Non-essential U.S. travellers who’ve had a full course of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine are now allowed in the country, provided it’s been 14 days since their last dose and they have proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test within the last 72 hours.

For businesses in Ontario’s border region of Niagara, which relies heavily on tourism, the rolling back of restrictions has been highly anticipated.

Read more: Canada set to welcome fully vaccinated U.S. travellers as border rules ease

“After 17 long months, we are very pleased to welcome U.S. visitors back to Niagara Falls Canada,” said Janice Thomson, the head of Niagara Falls Tourism, adding that nearly 30 per cent of visitors to the area come from the U.S.

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The owner of Niagara Wine Tours International said demand for experiences in wine country has been up since Ontario began reopening and that’s expected to increase with the changes at the border.

“We’re excited to have our U.S. friends visiting and touring with us once again,” said Lance Patton, noting that travellers from the States often visit the area to celebrate birthdays, mark anniversaries, hold corporate events and enjoy group getaways.

Zahir Ismail, owner of the Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake locations of the popular BeaverTails eateries, said he was also excited to serve American customers again but hoped people would follow public health guidelines to ensure businesses like his don’t have to endure further pandemic shutdowns.

“I hope this lasts for a longer period of time because I’m afraid with the whole Delta variant, are we going to close down again,” said Ismail.

The mayor of Niagara Falls said his city is glad to finally be approaching some version of normalcy, but he doesn’t expect a “mad rush” of American tourists heading for the border this week.

Read more: Kids at risk as Canada-U.S. border rules set to ease amid Delta surge: experts

Mayor Jim Diodati has been calling for the reopening of the border for months, saying the city’s economy relies heavily on tourists.

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Diodati said he believes the people who would want to cross the border right away are those hoping to reunite with relatives and friends they haven’t seen in almost two years, as well as those who want to check on properties they have in Canada.

“I think that’s going to be top of mind when the border opens … but I don’t expect it’s going to be fast and furious,” he said in an interview.

“I think it’s going to be gradual, like a dimmer switch, because for day trippers, it’s an awful lot of work and hoops to jump through in order to be able to cross that border. So I’m not anticipating an influx of American tourists right off the hop.”

Similarly, the company that runs the Hornblower cruises that take visitors up to Niagara Falls isn’t expecting a significant boost in business right away as a result of the changes at the border.

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Mory DiMaurizio, the chief operating officer with Niagara Cruises, said Canadian vessels that can hold 700 passengers are only operating at 25 to 35 per cent capacity, while their American counterparts, the Maid of the Mist boats, are full.

“Even if more people come to the Niagara area, it may not impact us that significantly, he said. ”We’re prepared for (travellers coming in), but I’m not suggesting that we’re anticipating a massive surge of people.“

All eligible travellers must use the ArriveCAN app or web portal to submit information such as their vaccination details.

Fully vaccinated travellers will not need a post-arrival test unless they have been randomly selected to complete a Day 1 COVID-19 molecular test.

There are no changes to the mandatory testing requirements for unvaccinated travellers.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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