Northern Ontario Border Working Group
In response to the closing of the border for tourists due to COVID-19 over two years ago, Destination Northern Ontario (DNO) took the lead and together with Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), formed the Northern Ontario Border Working Group (NOBWG). The group also included representatives from Sunset Country, Superior Country, Algoma Country, Northeastern Ontario Tourism, the Great Lakes Cruise Association and others. The mandate of the working group was to represent the tourism industry by working with the public and private sector to address and resolve the issues of a restricted border due to the pandemic.
Over the past two years, the NOBWG has continuously met and liaised with government officials and tourism stakeholders providing advice, developing proposals, offering solutions, and supplying market data to assist the federal government to move to an unrestricted border for international tourists.
These collaborative efforts by the NOBWG were well appreciated by our operators and stakeholders and helped to get the border open to tourists. These outreach activities were provincially recognized as the NOBWG won the TIAO 2021 Ontario Tourism Resiliency Award for Collaboration in the Regional Tourism Organization category.
When border restrictions began to be lifted, it was a phased approach by the government. On April 1, 2022 the COVID testing requirement was dropped, but tourists still had to show proof of vaccination and use the ArriveCAN app. On October 1, 2022, all border crossing restrictions were dropped.
To get an indication of the effect on tourism for Northern Ontario and Ontario after these milestone dates, examination of Government of Canada’s figures for land border crossings for Foreign Nationals into Ontario indicate a dramatic increase in activity.
Increase In Tourists After COVID Testing Requirement Dropped in April 2022
Ontario land border crossings from April 1, 2022 to October 1, 2022 totaled approximately 3,995,711. Comparing the same periods, there were 1,097,621 crossings in 2021, 554,921 in 2020 and 7,652,439 in 2019 (pre-pandemic). The 2022 crossings represent a 264% increase over 2021 and a 620% increase over 2020. While these increases are significant, the 2022 crossings were still 48% below the 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
Continued Increase in Tourists After All Requirements Dropped in October 2022
Ontario land border crossings from October 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022 totaled approximately 1,688,383. Comparing the same periods, there were 733,134 crossings in 2021, 329,368 in 2020 and 2,396,098 in 2019 (pre-pandemic). The 2022 crossings represent a 130% increase over 2021 and a 412% increase over 2020. While these increases continue to be significant, the 2022 crossings were 30% below the pre-pandemic 2019 levels. However, this shortfall gap continues to close steadily.
Looking Forward to 2023
It is clear that the elimination of border restrictions has benefited the tourism industry. While we are not at pre-pandemic visitation levels, we are continuing to close the gap. While there are emerging challenges for tourism, such as low economic growth predicted, employment remains strong, there is a pent-up demand for tourism, as well as other positive factors which are good for the industry in 2023.