In Buffalo, waiting for the Canadians

 Thursday, November 25, 2021 


So far, relaxed travel restrictions between the United States and Canada have not led to a big influx of tourists on either side of the New York-Ontario border. Both sides are waiting, not so patiently.

When the U.S. land border reopened to Canadian travelers on Nov. 8, businesses in Buffalo, one of the biggest border cities, rejoiced.

After 20 months, the thousands of Canadians who used to drive over to shop, dine and attend events would finally be coming back.
The Buffalo News even ran an editorial urging Buffalonians to honk their car horns appreciatively whenever they saw an Ontario license plate.

But in the ensuing days, a disappointingly small number of Canadians showed up.
While passenger-car traffic entering the United States over the Peace Bridge at Buffalo almost doubled from the previous week, it was still less than half of 2019 levels, said Ron Rienas, General Manager of the Peace Bridge Authority.

The much-vaunted reopening of the border, at least at first, is just another example of the snail’s-pace return of tourism in a world still hobbled by the pandemic.

In prepandemic times, 15 percent of our visitors were Canadian, said Mary Roberts, Executive Director of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, a restoration in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood that normally draws 40,000 visitors a year.

There was one reservation for this week for a Canadian guest, but they canceled, and there are three reservations for Canadian guests for next week, Ms. Roberts said, referring to reservations made in mid-November.

The absence of Canadians has been noticeable in Buffalo, where Ontario license plates were once about as common a sight as New Jersey plates in Manhattan.

In 2019, 10.5 million people crossed into the United States in passenger vehicles via the Peace Bridge at Buffalo, the Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges in Niagara Falls, and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Lewiston, N.Y. Pandemic border restrictions reduced that number to just 1.7 million people in 2020. Even the Canadian contingent at Buffalo Bills games, once 15 to 20 percent of the crowd, is down.

Another $1 billion in travel and tourism losses are estimated on the Ontario side of the Niagara River, according to a local government study, and officials on both sides say they don’t expect businesses to recover soon.

Mr. Kaler said he expected Canadians traveling into the Buffalo area to reach 2019 levels in 2022, and for tourism-related business to return to those levels in 2023. But business overall might take until 2024, he said.

When the land border reopened, the U.S. government’s only entry requirement was proof of vaccination.
However, the Canadian government required returning Canadians to be fully vaccinated and to have a negative P.C.R. test result, no more than 72 hours old, to come home. (Americans entering Canada also had to produce a negative P.C.R. result.)

With each test costing up to $150, many saw the P.C.R. requirement as onerous. Business and institutional leaders on either side of the border blamed it for the slow travel recovery.

Last week, Canadian officials announced that the P.C.R. requirement would be dropped for Canadians spending less than 72 hours in the States, starting Nov. 30. However, they said the requirement would stay in place for Americans for now.

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