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Comment: Marine border closure prejudicial to Vancouver Island

When the federal government announced the Canada-U.S. ­border would reopen to non-essential travel Monday, it was met with an incredible sense of relief and joy by many.
The MV Coho ferry arrives in the Inner Harbour in Victoria in March 2020. The ferry, which sails between Port Angeles, Washington, and Victoria, hasn’t made the trip since the end of that month. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When the federal government announced the Canada-U.S. ­border would reopen to non-essential travel Monday, it was met with an incredible sense of relief and joy by many.

Vaccines were rolling out, transmission of the COVID-19 virus was less than previous months, and travel between the two countries would resume. Transportation providers such as Clipper Vacations and MV Coho could ramp up hiring, scheduling, and marketing.

The phone of was ringing off the hook with Americans ­looking to book vacations in Greater Victoria.

A few days following the announcement, this joy turned to deep disappointment when it was confirmed only land and air borders would reopen then.

It was yet another setback for many of our members, as well as a lost opportunity to ­benefit from the pent-up demand for Americans to visit Greater ­Victoria.

The federal government must act as quickly as possible to ­reopen our marine border with the U.S.

If the land and air borders are safe to open, the same should apply to our marine borders as well. The jobs and economic impact resulting from American tourists is of critical importance to our visitor economy.

In a typical year, Clipper Vacations and MV Coho deliver 750,000 visitors and are responsible for 800 to 1,400 room nights per month.

Through Destination Greater Victoria research, we know American visitors spend 70 per cent more in Greater Victoria than Canadian visitors.

To visit Greater Victoria, reliable transportation to and from Vancouver Island is a necessity. Access to these transportation linkages — especially marine linkages to the U.S. — is required for many to come to our beautiful and welcoming destination.

The Greater Victoria visitor economy has faced tremendous challenges over the past 18 months. Necessary public health restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as encouraging us to stay in our local communities at various times, has meant many businesses have struggled to get by.

Part of this necessary public health response was to close the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel. Unfortunately, this was also a blow to transborder transportation operators and other Greater Victoria businesses that rely on American visitors.

We look forward to a safe reopening of the Canada-U.S. border, as well as the job creation, small-business success and civic vibrancy that result from American visitors.

An open marine border is an important component of the border reopening and attracting American visitors for the benefit of our community.

Paul Nursey is CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and Jeff Bray is executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

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