Cautious optimism for Windsor’s tourism industry as summer draws to a close

As summer draws to a close, Windsor-Essex tourism officials hope momentum in the local sector will remain positive despite the federal government still requiring visitors and returning Canadians to use the ArriveCAN app when crossing the border.

“Unquestionably, until the ArriveCAN application is dismissed, we will not see the full return,” says Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI). “That will take a few years.”

Orr said the industry’s Achilles heel remains the ArriveCAN application, suppressing the region’s true recovery potential after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One thing that’s definitely going to have to happen is the resumption of all business travel, convention travel, sports travel, and then the main thing still for us is the ArriveCAN app,” he says.

Orr adds, “Americans aren’t coming in the numbers they once did and that’s because there are border restrictions still in place, and as long as those border restrictions are in place, it’s going to prevent people who aren’t double-vaccinated or sheltered” Download the app and take the time to do it to cross international borders.”

Officials have indicated that some businesses in the tourism sector are seeing big returns, while others continue to struggle.

Orr noted that hotel occupancy in Windsor-Essex rose 5.8 percent in July compared to the same time in 2021.

“We saw some American visitors coming back, make no mistake. But we won’t see their full return until we free them from having to update that app to cross the international border,” Orr says.

A sign in Windsor, Ont. seen on August 29, 2022 advertising various tourist spots such as the riverfront, Main Street and Caesars Windsor. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)

Meanwhile, some in the industry say international travelers are returning regularly, noting that the summer season remained consistently busy with a mix of American and domestic customers.

“We’ve seen a huge influx of our caterers,” says The Grand Cantina owner Rosemary Woods. “It means people get together with their friends, doing events they had to put off for a while. So we’ve found it really great.”

The Mexican restaurant on Drouillard Road was voted among the best in Windsor-Essex by TWEPI earlier this year, naming it the best taco joint in the region.

Woods explained that there had been limited complaints from visitors to the state who had used the app to cross the border.

“We’ve seen some Americans yeah, that’s very, very exciting,” adds Woods. “We have seen many, many smiling faces. So that’s really good.”

Woods continued, “Even from personal experience, it’s very easy to get back and forth once you have all of your ArriveCAN. Everyone complains about it, but if you do it a few times, it’s really easy.”

Melanie Mason at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery in Amherstburg, Ont. told CTV News Windsor that their summer season had been very busy, with business levels reaching close to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’ve seen a lot of customers coming back to the United States, and not just Michigan,” the general manager said, telling CTV News Windsor that many guests are returning from Ohio, Massachusetts and Europe.

“I always ask where people come from and when they cross a line,” Mason says. “I asked him what they are going through the tunnel or over the bridge and how the process was and no one complained. Honestly, no one has given me any indication that it was a hassle.”

Mason suggested it has been a positive summer that has put a lot of hope into the upcoming fall season.

“They knew what to do, they came and I haven’t heard any negative impact. Only from Canadians have I actually heard anything negative about the ArriveCAN app. Americans are fine with it. From what I’ve experienced,” says Mason.

TWEPI officials also hope that the exceptional fall weather without further setbacks can continue.

“We knew this was going to be kind of a breakout season for us,” Orr says. “And we’re happy to say that we’ve continued to reopen.”

He added, “We are seeing growth in our festivals and events. We’ve been there. We’ve had activations there with our visitor services, the specialists, and they’ve seen bigger crowds than normal and the engagement and activity has been higher with those people, for people asking for tourist information. So there is great interest, there is general interest.”

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