TORONTO — “We need a plan and we need it now” was the impassioned call to action during yesterday’s TIAC press conference, during which the organization launched its new #OpenTheBorder campaign.
Beth Potter, President and CEO of TIAC (Tourism Industry Association of Canada), “stood united” with representatives from Provincial and Territorial Tourism Industry Associations across Canada to urge the federal government to commit to a plan to reopen the Canada-U.S. border. The hour-long virtual conference followed an in-person event at Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, where the campaign was officially launched.
“We’d like to see the borders open as soon as possible and we know that it will take some time to put necessary protocols in place. We also know it takes time for businesses to ramp up operations again, to rehire and retrain staff. What we’re really asking for right now is, what is the time frame [to reopening] so that we can begin to plan as an industry.”
As part of the campaign, TIAC has launched a new website, openuscanborder.ca, and is asking Canadians to write to their local elected officials to “let them know that they’re ready to welcome U.S. visitors across the border again,” said Potter. She added that she’s encouraged by the conversations currently happening between the government and provinces.
“But what we need is a plan in the end, we need to see what the timeline looks like to reopen so that the more than 225,000 businesses that make up our industry from coast to coast can plan to be ready when the borders are open,” she added.
The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to all but essential traffic since March 21, 2020. The closure will remain in effect until at least June 21, 2021.
When asked what the economic impact would be should the border remain closed for the summer, Potter said that Canada’s tourism industry would continue to see revenues decline.
“Prior to the pandemic, our industry was a $109 billion a year industry. Right now, we’re averaging about 50% of that but in some sectors, the devastation is actually 90%-100% if businesses haven’t been reopened. And with the border closed, those businesses that rely up to 100% on U.S. customers will see a second summer of zero revenue,” said Potter.
Public calls for the reopening have been steadily growing on both sides of the border in recent weeks. Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have called for the border to open now, while Liberal MPs Wayne Easter and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith have also added their voices. Travel demand is also at an all-time high, with U.S. web searches for Canadian destinations up 148% in the last 60 days alone, said Potter.
“We have been engaged with our American counterparts as well as officials on the American side to talk about what their expectations are, and they are actually more eager to get the border open than even we are this point,” she said. “They’re ready to welcome Canadians across the border and they want to come across the border themselves.”
Potter noted a “lack of urgency” on the Canadian side in terms of planning for the inevitable reopening, which has been out of step with the Biden administration. Immediately taking office in January 2021, President Biden formally asked for a border reopening plan. Canada, on the other hand, has been slow to make any public progress.
Dave McKenna, TIAC Chair, also added that with both CEWS and CERS programs coming to an end in September, the need to reopen the border is even greater now.
“Right now, the government is talking about decreasing the CEWS and CERS programs that have helped keep tourism businesses afloat for the past 15 months. If that is the case, then the border needs to reopen to allow for the tourism industry to have a chance at their own recovery,” he said. “We can’t have it both ways. If financial aid is going to decrease, then the border needs to reopen so that businesses can go back to work and support themselves.”
Noting how the situation has changed since Canada’s first cases of COVID-19 were reported last year, with medical experts saying that Canada is “winning the battle with COVID-19,” McKenna added that TIAC is in favour of the adoption of a “one-travel policy” across Canada to ensure that all provinces and territories are on the same page when it comes to policies and regulations.
“We need consumer confidence to rebound. This will only be helped by confidence in Canada’s travel policies moving forward,” he said. “We must be coordinated in our approach to make sure that visitors feel safe and are encouraged to visit our country once again.
“Now is the time to pivot to more forward-thinking policies and reopen the border to end the extreme financial stress that has flattened the industry and devastated the tourism economy in Canada. The industry has been crushed and we can’t lose another summer tourist season.”