New York State ready for Canadian travellers on Nov. 8 according to tourism council

The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Businesses in upstate New York are ready for Canadian travellers once the land border reopens on Nov. 8, according to the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.

"Welcome back everybody very soon to the United States. It's exciting. For us, it's long overdue," said director of tourism for the council Corey Fram, over a Zoom call with CTV News Ottawa.

"Here in the 1000 Islands region, prohibiting people from crossing the border is really breaking up families, it's keeping people from being at their properties, it's keeping them from getting to their favourite restaurants and shops," Fram said. "For us, this loosening of the regulation, it's just another step towards normalcy in this whole world that we've all been in."

Fram said he expects to see a spike in southbound traffic that will last a couple of days, as Canadians with a vested interest head to the U.S.

"They may have family south of the border, they may have property that they need to see, and then after that it will taper off and numbers will be higher than what they were the year before," Fram said.

He noted that northbound passenger traffic across the Thousand Islands Bridge in Ivy Lea is up approximately 30 per cent month-to-month compared to 2020. The Canadian border opened up to American travellers in August.

Fram said discussions to open up the American side have been a top priority along the Seaway for months.

"Right to the White House those conversations have been happening. We've had businesses that have been reaching out not only to local officials to do something, but state officials and federal officials," Fram said.

"I talked to one of our federal representatives, everybody is in a good mood on this topic for the moment, but we also recognize that this is the first significant step. This isn't where we want to stay, but most of us understand that this is going to be a progression and this is a step that was surely needed and overdue."

Fram thinks the added documentation needed for cross-border travel, especially for Canadians heading back to Canada, will not be a deterrent.

"There are going to be some hoops to jump through, and those are doable," he said. "We've all changed over the last two years, so having to provide a proof of vaccination or a digital proof as you folks are up north, that's something people have gotten used to.

"I have travelled; it's doable. You just have to have that incentive to go and that's why I think those first people you'll see crossing are family related reasons, property related reasons, and you'll see some recreation mixed in."

Fram thinks once people start to hear from friends and family that it is not hard to cross for recreational purposes or to see family, more people will have the incentive to do it.

Northern New York saw a rebound for leisure travel in the summer months, Fram says, saying it was a good summer for many properties, but others suffered, as they rely on Canadian business.

"You think of places such as the Boldt Castle, which would normally have daily stops by Canadian visitors. Their numbers were just not where they were in previous years," said Fram.

"Similar related for fuel sales, we don't have all those extra gas taxes, fuel sales have been down for two summers now at our marinas, so that won't have much of an impact now, with the border reopening in November, but those businesses can start to set themselves up to welcome Canadians back in 2022."

Fram thinks the initial economic impact come November will be in retail and lodging, with Canadians looking to scratch that shopping itch.

"The one thing about this that does line up nicely is this is getting us right around the time of the holiday shopping season, so that does allow for Canadians to come south of the border to a place like northern New York, get their shopping done, dodge some of those extra excess taxes, and be here for a few days before they head back up north," Fram said.

"More importantly, gatherings can happen now," said Fram. "Somebody who's living in Canada can come and visit family that they haven't been able to do now for quite a while. If you're somebody who lives in Canada, in Ontario, and you haven't been south of the border for almost two years now, to be able to come down, visit family, do some shopping, stay in a hotel for a few days, that's a relief, even if it's just 'over the border' as we like to say, just next door."

While he thinks the U.S. border should have opened up for Canadians back in August, he is happy the first step has finally been taken.

"The will has been there, we just finally now have the way," he said. "We've got to take this first step so we can continue to walk and eventually get back up and running to before this pandemic started, so it's a good first step. By happening in November, this is going to allow our border guards and our comer folks to get used to this and we can ramp this up. This isn't like opening the flood gates on Canada Day, or Independence Day weekend. This gives us a little bit of time.

"Our goal every day is how do we responsibly invite people into a community?" he added. "That's one thing we've always tried to grapple with this pandemic is how do you responsibly bring people in?

The 1000 Islands International Tourism Council acts as the regional promotion agency for the Thousand Islands Seaway region, Jefferson County and southeastern Ontario.

Its offices are located in Collins Bay, N.Y., at the foot of the Thousand Islands Bridge.