Leaky US border presents new challenge for Canadian tourism even as it feels the “revenue pinch”

As Canada’s COVID-19 infections and deaths moderate, the explosion of new cases in the United States presents a challenge for Canadian authorities who must deal with both unwanted tourists slipping through the border and legitimate travellers who break the strict quarantine laws.

The problem is compounded by a recent jump in crossings. More than 187,000 truck drivers and individuals entered last week from the US, a 30% increase over the end of May, according to news agency Reuters.

While the border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21, returning Canadians, essential workers and truckers, foreigners coming for family reunification, and even Americans driving to Alaska, are all allowed in. The law dictates that all but essential workers and truckers must isolate for 14 days, but not everyone is.

Meanwhile, Canada’s most iconic tourist towns are feeling the pinch. According to the Reuters report, the unemployment rate in Banff, a resort town in Canada’s flagship national park, has risen to an alarming 80% as COVID-19 has crippled the hospitality sector.

Since the border restrictions were imposed, more than 10,000 US citizens have been turned back because they wanted to enter for tourism, shopping or other non-essential reasons, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

In Whistler, a British Columbian mountain resort where U.S. tourists typically account for 25% of all summer visitors, hotel occupancy dropped to “pretty much zero” from mid-March through the end of June, said Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler.

“The U.S. is an important tourism market for Whistler, but the safety of all of our communities is first and foremost,” she told Reuters.

Public opinion in Canada is firmly in favour of border restrictions, with 81% of polled Canadians saying they want the border to stay closed. The US reported a record 77,000 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday alone.