Niagara Falls Mayor to feds: Drop the costly PCR tests and let tourism resume

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Published November 10, 2021 at 11:44 am

While Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati is grateful the Canada-U.S. border is now officially open in both directions, he sees one major stumbling block before those American tourism bucks come flowing back into his city.

As he sees it, the biggest stumbling block before the borders are truly open is the requirement that travelers get an expensive molecular test – such as a PCR test – which can cost hundreds of dollars.

To that end, ever since the US border opened for Canadians on November 8, Diodati says his city is not seeing the tourism traffic just yet and frankly, he’s not surprised.

Diodati and other border mayors have been doing the media circuit since Monday’s opening and they’re all saying the same thing – the PCR test needs to be dropped before tourism can resume back to the level of the 2019 days.

“When you tell a family it’s going to cost you another $1,000 to visit us and you won’t have any more to eat or a nicer place to stay, they choose not to (come),” said Diodati to one media outlet.

With restrictions dropping in the U.S. and overseas, Diodati is worried that Canada is getting bypassed by travellers due to the testing requirements.

When asked if the opening of the border has seen an influx of travelers, Diodati was blunt. “Not much. I don’t want to say like I’m complaining because we are grateful. But to truly be open, we have to remove this final encumbrance (the tests).”

“We’re the number one leisure destination in Canada. We get 14 million people (a year). Typically, we’ve get 25 per cent from the U.S. My concern is they’re going to bypass Canada and go to Europe or some other place. We don’t want that to happen. We count on tourism – 40,000 people count on tourism in Niagara to feed their families.”

Even when American were allowed to cross into Canada in early-August, he said he saw no rise in border crossing.

“This past summer, we opened up to Americans but they did not return,” he said. “The reason of course if the testing. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, it’s restrictive, it’s cumbersome. And we know similarly we’re not going to the U.S. if we have to get one of these tests.”

That said, he confessed he’s heard rumblings out of Ottawa that the test requirements may soon be lifted.

Saying he knew Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, was currently reviewing the costly criteria, he noted, ” Hopefully, that will be changed. Hopefully before the 21st of November. Not official but if you want to call it Ottawa-Speak, sounds to me like they’re going in the right direction, similar to what they’ve done in the U.S. and what they’ve done in Europe. They’ve dropped the PCR testing requirement. Our numbers are high – 85 per cent (of all eligible Canadians) are fully vaccinated.”

And Diodati has a timeline on his wish-list – November 21. Why? That’s four days before American Thanksgiving which traditionally leads into a four-day weekend for southern residents. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for American traveling.

“Once they removed this final (testing) restriction – and luckily it’s in time for the Christmas holidays, for US Thanksgiving – if they remove it by the 21st (of November), we can salvage the holiday season and hopefully, look forward to a good summer next year.”

So despite both borders opening up, is 2021 a write-off for Niagara Falls tourism? Diodati confessed he’s looking ahead. “We’re planning our marketing dollars now for next season.”

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