Ottawa

'The boat has already sunk': Tourism operators fear another lost summer

Operators in Ontario's border-hugging region of Thousand Islands say they’ve lost more than 90 per cent of their revenue as American tourists are told to stay away.

Massive revenue drop for operators in Thousand Islands likely as border remains closed to U.S. tourists

The Thousand Islands Bridge, one of Canada's busiest border crossings, crosses the St. Lawrence River, connecting Ontario with New York. (Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA 4.0))

Tourism operators in Ontario's border-hugging Thousand Islands region want the federal government to make a plan for the return of non-essential travel amid devastating drops in revenue.

Some operators suggest they could lose almost all of their typical revenue this summer without American tourists.

"What is the plan to keep our businesses open, and allow our tourism market to flourish in a safe manner?" Amy Kirkland, executive director of the Thousand Islands and Gananoque Chamber of Commerce, told Radio-Canada.

"This should have been developed over the past year and a half."

The Thousand Islands region is home to one of Canada's busiest border crossings at the Thousand Islands Bridge. Many tourism operators rely on international travel for their business, Kirkland explained.

Konrad Linckh, owner of the 1000 Islands Tower overlooking the bridge, can normally watch the flow of thousands of American tourists northward over the course of a busy summer season.

Now, he estimates he's lost 90 per cent of his revenue due to ongoing restrictions on non-essential travel.

He's lost hope of a rebound this season.

"The boat has already sunk," he told Radio-Canada. "Realistically, everyone who makes vacation plans has already made them by now."

A car enters Canada near the Thousand Islands border. Tourism operators in the region say reopening the border to non-essential travel is key to their survival. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Local tourism campaigns aren't enough

Linckh, like Kirkland, believes the reopening of the border is essential to the survival of his tourism business. Until that happens, Kirkland is calling on the Ontario and federal governments to extend business assistance programs scheduled to end this fall.

"We have a drop of 98 per cent just because international travel is cut off," she said.

Promotional campaigns aimed at igniting local tourism are not filling the gap left by international arrivals, Kirkland added.

Kathleen Allen, president of Rockport Cruises, which offers boat tours in the area, says her company would normally host 250,000 tourists, but in the summer of 2020, they saw only 12,000.

She expect her numbers to be down by 95 per cent from pre-pandemic levels this summer.

"Local tourism certainly helps us and is welcome," she told Radio-Canada, "but to … fill our four tour boats, we really need the international market."

With files from Radio-Canada's Rosalie Sinclair

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