The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) has welcomed the Government of Canada’s recent decision to ease Canadian border crossings and promote tourism and trade by lifting the requirement for the COVID-19 vaccine and making the ArriveCAN app optional.
“The ArriveCAN app has caused huge slowdowns at the border and been a deterrent to tourist traffic,” said Mishka Balsom, CEO of the GNCC. “We were one of many voices, including chambers of commerce, tourism associations, bridge commissions, and labour organizations, asking for these to be relaxed. The Government of Canada has shown flexibility and responsiveness in its decision.”
Even after COVID-19 restrictions within Canada had been almost entirely lifted, car traffic from the United States had fallen to 53% of its 2019 levels, according to a report from the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. Despite this drop in traffic, wait times had increased between 21 minutes and over two hours at the bridge, and processing times in airports were five times longer than in 2019. The Bridge Commission and the National Airlines Council of Canada have said that this increase is entirely due to the ArriveCAN app.
The ArriveCAN app was a particular barrier for Americans. While Canadians were aware of the app and were highly compliant, many Americans were unaware of the requirement until they reached the border. 39% of Americans aged 65 and older do not own a smartphone and were thus unable to use the app.
“The tourism sector was devastated by the pandemic,” said Balsom. “Even after a period of recovery between 2021 and 2022, tourism spending is still down by more than a third. We hope that thinning the border and removing these remaining barriers to tourism will help do the trick for our tourism businesses. We had obviously hoped that they would be lifted in time for the 2022 season, but we are now looking forward to 2023 without these restrictions in place.”