ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After 19 months, the United States is finally planning to open its land border with Canada and Mexico.
In just a few weeks, vaccinated travelers could make their way into the states for nonessential travel, like to visit family and friends, or just to take a little vacation.
The news is exciting for many communities in the Finger Lakes region that usually benefit from the tourism.
“This is really big news for the tourism industry in Rochester. There’s so much pent up demand,” said Don Jeffries, the President and CEO of Visit Rochester.
Since so many businesses and local economies have been affected by the pandemic, Jeffries hopes to see that change a little with the border opening again.
“It’s gonna be huge for everybody… for our hotel partners, our restaurant partners, and for everybody…the guy that owns the gas station, the dry cleaners, you know, there’s so many little bits of business that it is,” Jeffries said.
“We’re down about 9% in visitation, but Canadian travelers make up 10 to 15%. So this is going to fill that gap and put us back to over 2019 numbers. So we are really excited about this.”
While Rochester may not be as close to Canada as Buffalo, Jeffries says Canadians still love to visit the area for its arts and food scene. He expects even more demand with all the changes downtown, like ROC the Riverway.
“They’re doing new things downtown. The occupancy rates are way up downtown. You’re starting to see it, you’re starting to see activity on Parcel 5, you’re starting to see people at the Mercantile at Sibley’s. So a good active downtown helps attract tourism and the restaurants,” Jeffries said.
And the boost in tourism isn’t just expected in Rochester, but throughout the Finger Lakes Region. The area sees Canadian travelers in the summer and winter.
“I have to say because they’re hardy travelers who don’t mind our weather and in fact, enjoy our high ski hills and everything. So they make up anywhere between 10 and 20 to 30% of our business over the year,” said Valerie Knoblauch, the President and CEO of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection.
At Bristol Mountain Ski Resort, Canadians make up for a third of the tickets. Knoblauch says they also like to come to the area to celebrate holidays.
“Several Canadian holidays are important to the tourism in the area because they’re free to travel for their long weekends. We just passed one, the Canadian Thanksgiving is at the same time that our traditional Columbus Day is,” Knoblauch said. “They celebrate many of the same holidays that we do after that. In particular, they’re very celebratory and free during the Christmas holidays and over the New Years, and often like to make those short trips across the border for New Year’s in particular.”
The tourism from Canadians also impacts local shopping centers, like Eastview Mall in Victor.
Mike Kauffman, the General Manager of the mall, says while most shoppers come from Rochester, Syracuse or Buffalo, they’re still excited to welcome Canadians back.
“Any time we can bring a few more shoppers in and you know pick up maybe 2, 3% increase in sales from people coming in from Canada, it all makes a difference and that’s a good thing,” Kauffman said.
He said some travelers come specifically to the mall because of the stores they have there.
“We have a nice unique blend of stores,” Kauffman said. “We find a lot of people bypass Buffalo on their way here with stores like Von Maur, our new DICK’S House of Sport, L.L. Bean…those are stores that are kind of unique to our market and we find that the people from Canada enjoy making that trip out our way.”
While the border reopening is exciting news, tourist experts say it’s important to keep in mind that it could take a little while for travel to pick back up.
“I think there’ll be some trepidation still about traveling and I remember the first time I traveled again, even within the states, and how important it was that I did everything right. So I think we are excited to have the border reopen and we recognize that there will be some challenges and getting people back and forth and making it as fluid as it was before,” Knoblauch said.
In order to travel to the U.S., visitors will need proof of vaccination. The Department of Homeland Security plans to announce further details on requirements soon.
Americans are currently allowed to travel to Canada. Visitors need to provide proof of vaccination, along with a negative COVID test.
“You have to have that at least 72 hours before arriving and they also specify that they will not accept the rapid antigen test and needs to be a molecular test,” said April Engram, a Communications Specialist with AAA Western & Central New York.
Engram said all that information can be submitted through the ArriveCan App.
“It’s very convenient, and it lays out all of the steps to help it make it a little easier because there are multiple steps to cross the border,” Engram said.
For more information on traveling, you can visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website.