Last week, Canadian border officials announced that the land border with the United States, which has been shuttered since March, will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least Jan. 21, 2021. The rule has barred both Canadian and American travelers from crossing since the spring, but only Americans have not been able to fly across the border.
Canadians can fly to the United States -- which has a higher coronavirus case rate than Canada -- at their own risk and must satisfy testing and quarantine requirements when they return home. The Canadian government has been unwilling to comment on the fly-only loophole since October, according to the CBC.
And now, with harsh winter weather returning to Canada, snowbirds who typically RV across the more temperate southwestern U.S. states during the winter months have found a way to still make the trip. Cross-border towing companies, which are considered essential businesses, can take the recreational vehicle across the border for them and meet the RVers (who fly across the border) on the other side.
"Winter in Canada - even where it's the mildest - is rainy, cold, miserable, and it wasn't something we wanted to do," says Alex Kurm, 44, a longtime RVer who entered the United States with his family last month. They took a 12-minute charter flight across the border, and they retrieved their RV from a shipping company that transported it to the U.S. side.
"Our lifestyle is basically socially distant by design," Kurm says of he and his wife's decision to head south this year despite rising coronavirus cases in the United States. "We've been in an RV for four years . . . in the desert, mountains, and rural areas all the time just hiking and living in those places. So, we were not too worried." Kurm and his wife have long home-schooled their kids, and they work remotely from the road.
The loophole has created a business opportunity for cross-border towing and shipping companies, which say inquiries for cross-border jobs have spiked. Cory and Dennis Rushinko, co-owners of British Columbia-based shipping and towing company Bayview Towing, say their U.S.-bound transport is way up. Dennis, who manages all cross-border jobs, says he's doing two to three times as many trips across the border compared with last year - as many as three to four journeys every day.
Cory Rushinko, Bayview Towing's general manager, says the rule does not seem to promote safety. In contrast with people's option to get in their car from home and drive across the border, he says, the current loophole requires contact with a lot more people. "Tell me how it's OK for someone to go to the Vancouver airport, fly to Seattle and rent a car, drive up to the border and meet us, get in their car and go on their holidays," Cory Rushinko says.
Glenn Williamson, a Canadian by birth and the creator of the Canada Arizona Business Council (CABC) in Phoenix, which monitors tourism and business investments by Canadian visitors to Arizona, says his data shows the state has retained more snowbird Canadian visitors than it has short-term Canadian visitors in general.
Of the Canadian visitors Arizona usually gets, it has retained about 20 percent because of the border closure, Williamson says. But when looking only at snowbirds, a greater 40 percent have returned - thanks in part to the emergence of younger RVers, who are less at risk during the pandemic and still determined to escape Canadian winter, as they have in the past.
"When people here think of Canadian snowbirds they think of an older RV clientele, and it's really not anymore. About 70% of it is Canadians coming down who are much younger, looking for a new lifestyle," Williamson says. "When I talk to a lot of these people, [this year] you can tell that the cabin fever had really set in, and they are bound and determined one way or another to get down here."
Another Canadian RVer, Adam McLaughlin, 36, says he and his family, which includes three home-schooled kids, decided to delay their usual RV trip to the United States this winter. But he notes that it is not because of health concerns: They will soon fly to Mexico for an extended stay until February, and they hope to travel to the United States soon after through whatever means necessary.
"Mexico is just really hurting for tourism dollars," McLaughlin says. "For us we haven't really had that [safety] concern because we don't have any preexisting conditions. We're not haphazard about COVID . . . we don't want to get it, but we're also not in a high-risk category if we do."
McLaughlin is hopeful the border might reopen come spring, but he says if it doesn't, he will hire a company to ship their RV to the states for their next journey.
Canadian border officials have not signaled when the border might reopen, but they reassess the closure on a monthly basis.
CABC's Williamson is hopeful that tourism dollars will return to Arizona soon if the United States can get coronavirus cases under control. He notes that businesses are suffering because of the absence of Canadian snowbirds, and he says that in a normal year, the state's nearly 1 million annual snowbird visitors contribute more than $1 billion to the state's economy.
"I don't think we should have an absolute opening, but we should be very creative," Williamson says. "If we can put a man or woman on the moon, I think we can figure this one out."