Local festivals hoping for tourism bump as Canada eases international travel restrictions

Large festivals in the region are hoping to capitalize on tourism dollars as Canada eases up on international travel restrictions.

The move comes after a slow economic year for the hospitality industry.

“September is a very popular time for travelling, especially for those who don’t have children in school,” said Minto Schneider, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “I’m hoping we will see more in September and October of visitors.”

Fully vaccinated foreign travellers can enter Canada without a quarantine period as of Sept. 7. The move comes a month after the borders opened to fully vaccinated visitors from the United States.

According to the Canada Border Services Agency, traveller volume heading into Canada at the land borders more than doubled in the first week.

Those American visitors are significant for the Stratford Festival.

“Roughly 25 per cent of our audience comes from outside of Canada and of course these people often come and stay for a longer period of time,” said Anita Gaffney, executive director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Gaffney says it’s been a slow build of U.S. citizens returning to the Festival City, but she says the season runs until Thanksgiving and they are expecting some international tourists to book a trip.

“I don’t think we anticipate a massive influx of international visitors, but I think we will start to see some activity,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is also hoping for a better season after the economic challenges of 2020.

“There’s always that hope and we are looking at some lift from last year,” said Alfred Lowrick, executive director of Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. “There’s no doubt that’s going to happen and we have had some ticket sales from some of our venues already that are very positive.”

As the countdown for the festivities continues, Lowrick says it will be hard to predict how many travellers come from out-of-town.

“Pre-pandemic our festival drew about 12 per cent of the tourists that were international.”

Lowrick adds that would mostly be U.S. residents, but there are some international travellers from across the pond as well.