Regional Officials Disappointed But Not Surprised That Northern Border To Remain Closed | WAMC

Regional Officials Disappointed But Not Surprised That Northern Border To Remain Closed

May 22, 2020

The border between the U.S. and Canada will remain closed to non-essential travelers until at least June 21st.  Northern New York border interests say the move is disappointing but not unexpected.

Restrictions on cross border travel were first announced on March 18 and extended in April. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that the shared border will remain closed to non-essential travel until June 21.   “It was the right thing to further extend by 30 days our closure of the Canada U.S. border to travelers other than essential services and goods.  But we will continue to watch carefully what’s happening elsewhere in the world and around us as we make decisions on next steps.”

Plattsburgh is about 20 miles south of one of the busiest land border crossings in the country.  North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas calls the continuing closure to leisure travelers sad but adds it is clear that Canada is not at a point where it is willing to loosen restraints on any international travel.  “I think on this side of the border we need to understand that for Canada they correctly perceive that much of the transfer of the COVID-19 infection into Canada came from the U.S.  Certainly partly by Americans going into Canada but particularly by Canadians returning to Canada from Florida and other places. And so they’re particularly sensitive to not reopen that channel too quickly. So we need to understand that. It is profoundly sad particularly here in the North Country. By June 21st hopefully the environment the whole situation has improved in both countries to the extent that there will be a comfort level to begin at least some level of relaxation.”

Canadian travelers are a foundation for tourism across New York’s northern tier.  Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism President and CEO Jim McKenna says while the border closure does have an effect the real travel season doesn’t swell until July.   “Different areas of our region are affected differently by the Canadian traffic. Certainly Plattsburgh and straight down the Northway to the Lake George area big impacts. Certainly as you get into the central part of the Adirondacks not quite as much but significant.  On an annual basis Canadian traffic through the whole region exceeds 20-percent so it’s got a significant impact.”

McKenna says the border closure is mostly irrelevant because data is indicating that people in general are not yet willing to travel.   “Nationally 45% of local resort communities are saying it’s not the right time to bring people to our region. At the same time on a national basis about 60, I think it’s 62 – 63, percent of people are delaying their decision on whether they’re going to travel or not.  So what we’ve got to do is make sure that we build confidence in both of those areas.”

Douglas says to compensate for the loss of cross border travelers, tourism officials are refocusing promotion efforts to more localized markets.  “We’re going to switch much of our effort and our investment to encouraging people in our own region to do staycations in their own backyard.  That can help in turn take the place, at least in part, of some of the missing travel until that resumes from out of the area.”

Essential cross-border workers including healthcare professionals and truck drivers are exempt from the restrictions.

Audio of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is courtesy of CBC News.