HOULTON, Maine – As the pandemic slowly abates, Americans are flocking to visit Maine this summer, helping the crucial hospitality and tourism sector that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
But Canadian tourists are not. Canada recently extended its ban on non-essential travel at the US border for at least an additional month, although family members and dual citizens can now cross without quarantine.
The extension officially extends the travel ban to the busy summer months of Maine’s tourist season. Retailers in areas normally dependent on Canadian customers may see their incomes not return to normal, preventing a full recovery in Maine’s usually vibrant summer economy this year. Cities on the Canadian border, which normally provide services to Canadians traveling further into the state or trying to take advantage of better price deals, may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of the travel ban. Not only are they missing Canadian tourists who travel to Maine and buy goods, but also Americans who may be traveling upstate to enter Canada.
Data from the Maine Tourist Board also suggests that Canadians tend to overstep their weight when it comes to spending money to visit Pine State. According to The data As of 2019, the last year before the pandemic began, Canadians made up 14% of all visitors to Maine and almost 22% of total retail sales to tourists. In total, Canadians spent $ 1.2 billion on tourism spending in Maine.
Many Canadians travel to Maine – especially the Bangor area – to take advantage of fluctuations in the exchange rate between Canadian and American currencies, as well as the lower cost of some products in the United States compared to their own country. , according to Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron.
âThere is no doubt that the return of the Canadian market is absolutely essential for [return] to a bit of normalcy – because the Canadian market is a big part of the industry as a whole, âCameron said.
most recent poll of Canadian visitors by the Maine Tourism Board in 2015 showed that 23 percent of Canadians mainly visited the Bangor and western Maine areas, shopping at stores in downtown Bangor and in Bangor shopping center. The second most popular stop was Maine Beaches, which reported 22 percent of visitors to be Canadian. The Down East and Acadia accounted for 12 percent of tourist destinations for Canadians, and Portland accounted for 10 percent. Eighty percent of Canadians have stayed in paid accommodation such as hotels and inns, and the majority of them said shopping was their main interest when traveling to visit the state.
The lack of Canadian tourists is unlikely to have a significant impact on major tourist areas, such as Acadia National Park. Despite the fact that the CAT ferry, which connects Bar Harbor with Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is not in service for the second year in a row, businesses in the area are supported by a larger than normal influx of American tourists and could possibly see a record number of hits.
But in the highlands of Maine and in cities hugging Canada, businesses are feeling the impact of the border closure. The town of Lubec in Washington County, for example, typically serves both Americans and Canadians traveling to Campobello Island – the former vacation home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in New Brunswick – which hosts normally more than 100,000 visitors per year. With the closure of the border, travel to and from Campobello has ceased.
Gale White, the owner of Lubec Brewing, said that despite the lifting of mask and social distancing restrictions, his overall sales are down about 20% due to the border closure.
âThere are people who go specifically to see Roosevelt’s cabin, but there are also people who are US citizens who own property there and would normally spend the summer there,â White said. âNormally they would go there, then spend a lot of money here in Lubec, go out to dinner and go to my place. ”
In Houlton, three miles from the border, Canadians crossed frequently before the pandemic to purchase groceries such as poultry and milk, as well as refuel at local gas stations en route south.
Mike Folsom, owner of Shiretown Package Re Reception in Houlton, has been feeling the impact of the border closure since its implementation over a year ago. Before the pandemic, Canadians would order goods from U.S. retailers and have them shipped to his company, where they then collected them to avoid the cost of shipping to Canada.
With the border still closed to non-essential travel, Folsom’s main business has effectively shut down for the past 15 months.
âSome truck drivers have ordered packages and they always come to check them, but it’s infrequent,â Folsom said. âThey want to come as badly as we want them to come. I get calls two or three times a week saying they are missing out.
In order to stay afloat, Folsom buys and resells products such as motorcycles and ATVs. But he hopes to be able to resume his normal activities soon.
“It was either doing something else in the meantime or closing a business,” Folsom said. âAnd I worked too hard to keep this going. I have been here for eight years and would like to continue to do so.
Added to the fear of another summer without Canadian tourists is the lack of a clear indication from either country as to the reopening of the border. More and more American politicians are making their voices heard, with Democrats and Republicans in favor of reopening. In Maine, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Representatives Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree have called for a reopening, saying failure to do so is hurting Maine businesses and families.
Maine isn’t the only place affected, if the travel ban persists. Places like Detroit, Michigan and Buffalo, New York, which border the Canadian province of Ontario, also rely heavily on tourists who travel to visit places like Lake Michigan and Niagara Falls.
Democrat Brian Higgins, a US House member from the district that includes Buffalo, has been one of the most vocal politicians on either side of the border arguing for a reopening. He strongly criticized the latest renewal of the travel ban, using a curse to describe the overtime and to note how National Hockey League players were allowed to travel to Canada for the playoffs, but the Americans were excluded.
âIt’s a very reasonable level of frustration based on conflicting information, the lack of seriousness,â Higgins said in a recent interview. “It’s not just an economic issue, it’s a quality of life issue, it’s a mental health issue.”
Canadian domestic politics could also be a factor, Trudeau’s Liberal Party under pressure by Doug Ford, the Conservative Premier of Ontario – one of the provinces hardest hit by the pandemic – to keep certain restrictions in place. But Higgins said he has spoken to several Canadian politicians, including MPs and mayors from border communities, who all want less restrictions.
âWhen you loosen these restrictions, you don’t do it recklessly,â Higgins said. âNo one is saying to just open up. There are conditions and that is what happens in times of public health crisis. ”
More articles from the BDN