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During Tourism Week, WNY leaders highlight importance of welcoming back Canadian visitor

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Fri, May 7th 2021 09:15 am

Higgins continues push for a plan to safely reopen northern border

Congressman Brian Higgins was joined Thursday by Visit Buffalo Niagara members and other community partners to observe National Travel & Tourism Week, which runs May 2-8. He highlighted the importance of safely reopening the border between the U.S. and Canada to support tourism jobs and economic growth.

Higgins said, “The seamless flow of people crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada came to a grinding halt last March. With the loss of that commercial and cultural exchange came enormous economic loss for communities like Western New York. Vaccines are providing great optimism and opportunity to not only get back to where we were but to grow from a refound appreciation people have for travel. Allowing for a quick and safe reopening of the northern border must be an essential component of this country’s economic recovery strategy.”

Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler said, "There's a reason you see Canadian flags flying outside of Buffalo's City Hall and other municipal buildings – our neighbors to the north are our friends, our relatives and, for more than 200 years – our business partners and customers. Canadian visitors are a cornerstone of our local hospitality economy. Their support of our hotels, restaurants, tourism attractions and retail outlets is critical to the health and vitality of our region. We can't wait to see them back in Buffalo."

Visit Buffalo Niagara said tourism in Erie County is more than a $1.8 billion industry, supporting thousands of jobs and generating enough sales tax to save every Erie County household $600 in taxes. But pandemic-related northern border restrictions have impacted restaurants, retail, travel and tourism destinations across Western New York and beyond.

“Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House is a celebrated masterpiece of architecture inspiring and attracting visitors from all corners of the world with the power of design in harmony with nature,” Executive Director Mary Roberts said. “Among those national and international visitors, the Canadian audience represents a significant portion – nearly 15% – of our guests each year, and it is a growing market segment for the Martin House and for Buffalo. Tourism is a mainstay of our regional economic base. We look forward to welcoming our friends from north of the border back to our community and to the Martin House, when it is safe to do so.”

Shea’s Performing Arts Center President Michael G. Murphy added, “Our friends and neighbors in Southern Ontario are an integral part of our region’s cultural community. As attendees at performances and events at Shea’s and other Buffalo venues, they provide a significant economic impact to our arts organizations, restaurants and hotels. We’re looking forward to the border opening and welcoming our Canadian patrons back for live, in-person experiences. We miss being together in the theater and look forward to the moment when the lights dim, the curtain rises, the music swells, and our hearts celebrate a brand-new day.”

The theme for this year’s Tourism Week is “The Power of Travel.” The U.S. Travel Association reports travel spending is down nearly $500 billion and travel-supported jobs fell by over a third from 17 million in 2019 to 11 million in 2020.

“We are so grateful to Congressman Higgins who is working diligently to reopen the U.S. and Canadian border,” said Kim Minkel, NFTA executive director. “Our passenger traffic is down approximately 85%, and a big part of that is the U.S. and Canadian border closure, along with COVID concerns. The NFTA is thankful for all of the congressman’s efforts in getting the border open.

Image courtesy of Congressman Brian Higgins' office.

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Canadians represent approximately 30% of Buffalo Airport customers and over 80% of the travelers using the Niagara Falls Airport.

Border policies have forced a steep decrease in crossings. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, from 2019 to 2020, 9.1 million fewer people crossed the U.S.-Canada border at the Buffalo-Niagara Falls land ports of entry alone.

“Travel supported one out of every 10 American jobs prior to the pandemic, and Canada was the largest inbound market,” U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said. “Travel spending in the U.S. by Canadian visitors dropped by $14 billion last year, and we are on track to lose another $18 billion in 2021 if the border stays shut. Reopening travel with Canada and other nations – which science tells us can be done safely – needs to be a top priority for the sake of the U.S. economy and jobs.”

According to U.S. Travel, Canada is the largest international inbound market to the U.S., with nearly 21 million visitors spending $20.8 billion in 2019. Monthly visitations from Canada have been 96%-98% below 2019 levels each month since March 2020.

A report issued by the Ontario Ministry of Finance in 2020 points out the potential associated with the growing Canadian market: “Ontario’s population is projected to increase by 31.5 per cent, or almost 4.6 million, over the next 27 years, from an estimated 14.6 million on July 1, 2019 to almost 19.2 million by July 1, 2046.”

The border between the U.S. and Canada first closed to nonessential travel in March of 2020. The current border closing order is in place through May 21.

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