Alberta’s tourism industry is optimistic for a return of American travellers after a gruelling 16 months as Ottawa is set to release more details on reopening the U.S.-Canada border.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that Canada could start accepting fully vaccinated travellers from the U.S. for non-essential travel by mid-August, and international visitors by early September.
Travel Alberta CEO David Goldstein called it “encouraging news” as it had been a tough year and a half for Alberta’s tourism sector and it “simply can’t afford another lost summer.”
“The U.S. is Alberta’s largest international market and we are excited by the prospect of once again hosting American travellers before the summer is out,” Goldstein said Friday.
“It could make a significant difference to the seasonal bottom line of tourism businesses across the province.”
According to Travel Alberta, U.S. travellers accounted for more than $990 million in expenditures in 2019, with more than 1.2 million overnight person visits.
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic was forecasted to impact 23,000 jobs. Tourism expenditures are believed to have fallen by 48 per cent, according to Travel Alberta.
The reopening plans are also being well-received by the Calgary Airport Authority.
“We welcome the news of opening the Canada-U.S. border for fully vaccinated Americans and international travellers in late summer and fall,” said Krista Oulette of the Calgary Airport Authority.
“We have made significant investments into our internationally accredited #FlyHealthyYYC program, and will continue to work closely with governments, airline and airport partners on a safe and healthy return to air travel.”
Oulette said the airport has seen an uptick in guests since the federal announcement to end hotel quarantines for double-vaccinated guests.
Ever since Canada closed its borders, it’s also been a tough year for Edmonton International Airport.
“At the low, we were losing about just over $300,000 a day,” said Steve Maybee, the vice-president of operations and infrastructure at EIA.
But he said the possible opening is positive news.
“It’s another step towards reopening Canada, the province and the city,” Maybee said.
EIA has not been allowed to have international flights for over a year, but if borders reopen, Maybee said it hopes to welcome those flights back and salvage part of the summer flying season.
“That’s a huge part of our business,” he said. “Not having those direct flights for business and for the economy is quite impactful, so we need that access back.”
During some of the most difficult stretches of the pandemic, Maybee said EIA averaged 1,000 passengers a day. While that number has risen to roughly 4,000 a day, if borders reopen, he hopes that will double.
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The Travel Lady’s Lesley Keyter also applauded the reopening plans but said she was disappointed that another issue was not addressed.
“I was firstly disappointed to read this statement because it didn’t say anything about travellers leaving Canada,” she said. “It’s great for the tourism business — the inbound tourism — because I know hotels and resorts in Canada have been devastated by this whole pandemic.
“So it’s great that they’re going to get some bookings in for the end of the summer, and being able to open up the ski resorts for the winter will be fabulous. But my question is, if we’re letting people in… why do we not have the travel advisory lifted or adjusted so that Canadians can travel internationally?”
Keyter said Canadians are itching to travel but messaging has been conflicting.
“That pent-up demand is real, and people really want to travel,” she said. “I think it’s not so much the case of if they’re not confident, (rather) it’s a case of what is going to change in the next week or two weeks or three weeks. It’s an uncertain climate… It seems to be conflicting.
“I feel that we’re becoming immigration lawyers because we’re going through government advisories and entering requirements. So it’s been exhausting, but it’s exhilarating. The people want to travel so much.”
A spokesperson for Premier Jason Kenney said overall, his government is happy plans are in the works for border travel.
“We are pleased Trudeau listened to common sense and science when considering reopening Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers,” read a statement.
“This is something Alberta’s government advocated for in support of our tourism industry. Although we hoped it would be sooner than fall, it’s positive there’s a date on the horizon.”
–With files from Global News’ Chris Chacon
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