Hamilton

Every day border is closed 'another person's life work goes up in smoke:' Niagara business owner

Another summer with the border closed to non-essential travel, Whirlpool Jet Boats owner John Kinney says, could mean be a disaster for him and his business. That's not an argument for opening the border that has the region's medical officer of health convinced.

Niagara Mayor says businesses need 'more of a plan and less of a puzzle'

John Kinney, Owner of Whirlpool Jet Boats stands infront of one of the jet boats. (Supplied/Whirlpool Jet Boats)

Another summer with the border closed to non-essential travel, Whirlpool Jet Boats owner John Kinney says, could mean disaster for him and his business.

"Every day the border is not open, another job, another business, another person's life work goes up in smoke. I'm hoping that it won't be my life's work," Kinney said.

"It is absolutely imperative for Niagara Falls, Southern Ontario and actually the whole tourism industry in the province of Ontario to have our borders open."

Almost half of North America's population lives within a one-day drive of Niagara Falls but the border has been shut off to non-essential travellers for more than 17 months.

"We're just like everybody else, we're doing everything that we can to live to fight another day," he said.

Reopening the border would put Niagara at "particular risk," acting medical officer of health for the Niagara Region, Dr. Mustafa Hirji told the Canadian Press.

"I expect, probably, we need another two or three months before we're at the stage where we've maxed out our vaccinations, and we would be at a stage where we could reopen and not have to worry about the delta variant overwhelming us," he said.

Hirji said he recommends the border closure be extended to when the current restrictions expire on July 21 and that both countries reassess the situation in the fall, leaving more time for vaccinations.

"In October of 2020, when the vaccines were announced and approved, if you would have told me that the summer of 2021 was going to be more difficult, more restrictive than the summer of 2020, I would have said you're out of your mind," Kinney said.

There's no clear plan, mayor says

Kinney said he understands why places like Shoppers Drug Mart are deemed essential but doesn't get why his business isn't.

"In Ontario, the second largest industry is hospitality and tourism. So to take your second largest industry and call it non-essential?," Kinney said.

"I do have a little bit of an issue that you can line people up 20 deep at the beer store, but you can't put more than 12 people on a jet boat."

While the Whirlpool Jet Boats are currently allowed to operate at 25 per cent capacity, Kinney said even if they could operate at full capacity that it will take years before the business is done with COVID-19.

Niagara Falls May Jim Diodati said that one of the most frustrating parts of looking ahead for the summer is having no clear plan.

"When businesses don't know when they're going to open, they can't budget, and they cannot plan. That creates so much stress on a business and sometimes we say I'd rather have bad news, than none at all," Mayor Diodati said.

"You cannot plan for the success of a business when you don't have all the information. At least when you decide what you want open, that's one thing, but when you have no control over the border, and you know that border leads to 50 per cent of the revenue, you realize that really you have very little control and lots of frustration," he said.

It is estimated that American visitors represent 25 per cent of travellers who visit Niagara Falls but account for 50 per cent of the total revenue for the tourism and hospitality industry in the area.

Golf courses did well

Niagara Parks CEO, David Adames said although Niagara Parks attractions, restaurants, heritage sites and parking services saw a decline in visitation, that was not the case for golf courses.

"I think early on before we opened, we were unsure what to expect, unsure whether COVID-19 would have had a detrimental impact on golf," Adames said, "but to our delight, we actually had a significant upswing in play and we're seeing that trend continue this year.

Adames said he expects golf to continue to grow in popularity and attendance if the border were to remain closed but other Niagara Parks attractions will see a "dramatic impact" on the revenue.

Mayor Diodati also said in a press conference on Monday, that in order for businesses to make it through this uncertain time, they need "more of a plan and less of a puzzle."

"Infection rates are way down and vaccination rates are way up, we're exactly where we need to be, so why haven't they shared the plan and why don't we have a hard date for opening up?," he said.

Businesses will need as much notice as possible in order for people to be hired and trained, inventory will need to be ordered in and people need to be prepared so that it's not a negative experience for visitors coming to the area because of lack of preparation, Mayor Diodati said.

"We are seeing a patchwork of provincial policies roll out that are difficult to reconcile," CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, Janice Thomson said.

"Canadians could really use a single national policy approach to travel that clarifies a country's policy on vaccinations certification. Our international border unvaccinated minors, partially vaccinated Canadians and other critical details that require that national leadership," Thomson said.

"I think the problem is, governments, both provincial and federal, are afraid to make a mistake," Mayor Diodati said, "because there's already been challenges and they don't want to make a mistake, and I get that, but by not making a decision you are making a decision."

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