Niagara Falls tourism sector hopeful for turnaround in 2021

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While uncertainly still remains, Niagara Falls’ battered tourism industry is starting to see light at the end of this long, dark pandemic tunnel with hopes that Niagara may be allowed to gradually reopen on a permanent basis some time this summer.

That’s good news to Joanne DeBrabander of Delhi, Ontario, one of numerous people taking to Facebook of late to express a desire to visit the city's attractions once again.

“We haven’t been back since the pandemic started,” said DeBrabander. “(I’m) hoping it becomes a monthly routine again soon.”

In the federal budget unveiled on April 19, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a $500 million tourism relief fund, $100 million for marketing Canadian destinations, and more than $400 million for a plan for the safe reopening of the border.

Mayor Jim Diodati called the funding “a good start” for his city, a world-renowned destination that normally welcomes some 13 million visitors a year.

Many health officials and politicians hope the majority of Canadian adults will have received at least their first vaccine shot by some time in June, but the rise of more infectious COVID-19 variants have made the situation fluid.

Diodati said the local tourism industry brings in 80 per cent of its revenue traditionally from July 1 to Labour Day, and said what will likely be a phased-in reopening may not come in time for the industry to recover from the losses of the last year and hold out until full recovery.

“Unfortunately with the partial opening it won’t make up for last year’s losses and it certainly won’t carry them through the winter,” he said.

Freeland announced her government was extending emergency wage and rent subsidies set to expire in June to September, but Diodati said it needs to be extended to next spring if tourism-related businesses on the brink hope to hang on.

“If the patient doesn’t survive, medicine isn’t going to help you,” he said.

Diodati also wants the federal government to get working on a safe border reopening plan now so it’s ready to roll out once vaccination levels warrant reopening the 49th Parallel.

That’s important because local businesses will be better poised to invest and plan for a return to business if they have the confidence the border reopening is coming, he said.

“If we can get a decent July and August (for tourism) it will set the stage for recovery,” said Diodati. “We’ve got a chance at turning this ship around.”