Nineteen months since it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the re-opening of the border to vaccinated visitors from Canada is drawing positive responses from representatives of the tourism, hospitality and retail industries.
“Opening now is better than opening later — we’ll take it,” said Hannah Campbell, president of the North County Chamber of Commerce in Colebrook, during a telephone interview Wednesday.
On Tuesday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that in November, visitors from Canada and Mexico who have received COVID-19 vaccinations will be able to enter the U.S. for non-essential purposes, “including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings.”
No specific date has been announced for the border re-opening, however.
The border re-opening may be a little too late in the year to help some chamber members, Campbell said.
“It’s hard to quantify the traffic we missed out on” when the border was closed to non-essential travel from Canada, she said, “but anecdotally, it’s been pretty significant.”
Canadians come into New Hampshire either through a border crossing in Pittsburg or farther south in Beecher Falls and two other towns in Vermont, she said.
“The last 19 months have been quiet, to say the least,” Campbell noted. “Usually in the summer we see everyone who passes through to go to the beaches in Maine travel right through our area.”
In addition to the economic cost of the border closure, Campbell said there was also a second cost.
“On a personal level, I know quite a few families that have been split apart,” she said. “I think everyone around here fully supports the border being opened.”
Charyl Reardon, president of White Mountain Attractions, said Wednesday that the re-opening is good news for her association’s members, which include 17 major attractions and 300 tourism and hospitality businesses.
Canadians make up 10% to 15% of all visitors during the spring, summer and fall, said Reardon. During the spring, retirees come south to New Hampshire for day trips, including shopping at outlets, while in summer the visitors are families with a yen for outdoor activities.
The White Mountains region missed its Canadian visitors, she said, but fortunately, it saw “an increase in the ‘drive market’ from neighboring New England states, which lessened the impact of the (border closure) on tourism-related businesses.”
Reardon looks at the border re-opening as a chance for her association to re-connect with tour operators and media in Canada. Next March, she and others from White Mountain Attractions will travel north for the Montreal Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show, which is billed as “Canada’s largest Outdoor Adventure event.”
Among a group of tourism-industry executives who with members of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation, pushed for the border to re-open in September for at least part of the foliage season, Reardon said the closure didn’t bring as much bad news as first feared.
“Business was good this summer. It was a good summer and fall and it’s been a good rebound from 2020,” she said.
Most association members “saw numbers very similar to 2019, if not a bit better, and we certainly saw a wide range of guests this summer, not only the drive-market-New England folks, but from New York and Pennsylvania, too.”
Over at the Settlers Green Outlet Village in North Conway, Laura Lemieux, marketing and events director, said most of the stores “are outperforming 2019” and relying on the outlet’s traditional customers from Boston, southern New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island.
But customers from Canada are important, too, she said, with their purchases accounting from 15% to 35% of the outlet’s annual revenues.
“We’re super thrilled” that the border is re-opening, said Lemieux. “I think it’s long overdue, but we did things as safely as possible, but (the re-opening) is important for our economy.”
Settlers Green “can’t wait,” she said, for the return of Canadian customers, “and we’re fortunate that we didn’t slip too far back.”
“Our tourism industry has been anxiously awaiting this news for months, and we are all happy to see the federal government has finally lifted these land border restrictions,” said New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell in a statement Wednesday.