Talks come as travel at US-Canadian border remains below prepandemic levels
Congressman Brian Higgins on Wednesday joined representatives from Visit Buffalo Niagara and Destination Niagara USA for a roundtable discussion led by the U.S. Travel Association. Western New York leaders, organizations and destinations chatted about the importance of travel and tourism to the local economy.
“As we continue moving toward a postpandemic world, remaining restrictions and measures related to COVID-19 at the U.S.-Canadian border are discouraging people from resuming cross-border travel at the same rate as before the pandemic,” Higgins said. “The U.S. and Canadian economies have historically been connected by travel and tourism, especially in Western New York and Southern Ontario. In order to revive our local economies to their prepandemic levels, we must remove the barriers to travel, and return to northern border management that encourages the convenient and efficient flow of people between both countries.”
Public Affairs and Policy Executive Vice President Tori Emerson Barnes said, “International travel is key to our economic and jobs recovery, and Rep. Higgins has been a champion for safely restarting and rebuilding cross-border travel. The conversation today focused on what’s needed to continue the progress that has been made. We’re grateful to Rep. Higgins for his focus on the full recovery of this vital economic sector.”
According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic and international travelers spent $2.9 billion while visiting NY-26, and supported 22,126 jobs in 2019. After the northern border closed in March of 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, travel-related spending dropped by 54% and job numbers dropped by 35%. In 2021, when the border began to reopen, spending by domestic and international travelers increased by over 76% in Erie County, and 109% in Niagara County.
Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler said, “Congressman Higgins has been a longtime champion for Western New York’s tourism industry. His tireless efforts on the issues that impact Buffalo and Erie County’s visitor experience through tourism-related infrastructure projects, cross-border issues, and workforce development have been remarkable and will ensure regional economic success.”
Destination Niagara USA President John Percy said, “We applaud Congressman Higgins and his endless dedication and passionate support of the tourism industry overall, especially here in Niagara Falls USA. His support and advocation of tourism-related issues nationwide are imperative as we move forward in rebuilding our tourism economies.”
In late June, the Canadian government announced it was extending current border restrictions until at least Sept. 30. Travelers must be vaccinated, and both Americans and Canadians are required to submit their health information and travel plans using the ArriveCAN app within 72 hours before arrival.
In addition to Visit Buffalo Niagara and Destination Niagara USA, participants in the travel discussion included representatives from the Buffalo Urban League, Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Old Fort Niagara, U.S. Travel Association, Lockport Locks District, MusicalFaire Theatre, Merani Hotel Group, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, New York State Parks, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, City of Niagara Falls and the Aquarium of Niagara.
Higgins’ team said he is “a vocal leader in advocating to end COVID-related restrictions and other barriers to entry at the northern border preventing our economies from returning to prepandemic levels. He recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus calling for the agency to address the significant backlog for new applicants to Trusted Traveler Programs, like NEXUS, which allow expedited crossings for prescreened travelers at the U.S.-Canadian border.
“Currently, there is a nearly nine-month wait for new applicants trying to schedule screening appointments at the Niagara Falls Enrollment Center, which finally reopened in April 2022 after a prolonged COVID-related closure. Higgins has spoken directly with Commissioner Magnus regarding the NEXUS backlog, as well.”
Since the initial border closure in March 2020, Higgins has been in contact with leaders in both the U.S. and Canada, urging for “common-sense measures that encourage safe cross-border travel.”
In November 2021, he met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding the testing policy at the Canadian border, calling for “a collaborative approach between both countries that will benefit both the U.S. and Canadian economies.” In May of 2021, Higgins joined Visit Buffalo Niagara during Tourism Week to welcome the Canadian visitor back after the U.S.-Canada border was closed for over a year. In October, he spoke with White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients, seeking binational coordination at the norther border. Higgins followed up with subsequent letters to the Biden administration.
Additionally, this summer, Higgins joined local government leaders in Western New York and across the border in Canada in calling on the Trudeau administration to end the ArriveCAN mandate. His team said, “The app continues to cause headaches for travelers, deterring people from crossing the border for regular trips and tourism.”
Higgins serves as co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group and the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. His Western New York district includes the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.