THUNDER BAY — The organization that speaks for hundreds of tourist outfitters across Northern Ontario welcomes the imminent lifting of COVID-19 border restrictions.
"We're relieved,' says Laurie Marcil, executive director of Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario. "Relieved for the tourism industry. Relieved for guests who have been coming here for decades and won't have to go through these tasks anymore."
The last of the federal border restrictions will lapse at the end of this month when a cabinet order dealing with mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine of international travellers expires.
In addition, travellers will not be required to use the ArriveCan app.
"We've heard lots of stories, talked with visitors who have just really struggled with the app as well as the random testing, in addition of course to the vaccination mandate at the border," Marcil said in an interview Thursday.
Because so many clients have stayed away, she said the restrictions have had a devastating impact on resource-based tourism operators, particularly in Northwestern Ontario where the clientele is predominantly American.
"Being completely cut off from your guests for a year-and-a-half, and then only being able to access those who are fully vaccinated as of last August has been pretty difficult financially, emotionally. It's been a huge, huge problem."
Marcil said ending the restrictions will help operators get on the road to recovery.
"We're very pleased the government is finally coming to its senses and removing these barriers," she added.
But Marcil suggested that the path to normal will be a long one for many NOTO members.
"A great many are in some pretty sticky financial situations... It's going to take us three to five years to fully recover from this."
Government financial assistance helped a good number of operators, she said, but some didn't qualify because of certain eligibility criteria.
"So those ones are suffering quite a bit. Others are now concerned about payback. A lot of these were loan programs, and now they have to generate revenue to pay them back."
The importance of U.S. visitors to the economy of Northern Ontario can't be underestimated, Marci stressed, noting that in a normal travel year, they spend over $460 million in the region.