Another month without Canadians crossing means more mixed news for the WNY economy

Sep 21, 2020

With the closure of the US-Canada border to non-essential traffic extended another month, Western New York's economy continues to suffer in key sectors. WBFO spoke to some local tourism and commerce representatives for their thoughts.

It was confirmed Friday. Canada's agreement with the United States to keep the border closed to non-essential travel was extended yet again, this time until October 21.

A view from the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. While essential traffic is still allowed, the ban on non-essential traffic has now been extended through October 21.
Credit WBFO file photo

"The closure of the border is devastating to Buffalo. And if it were open, I think that we would see a little bit more visitation because Canadians love Buffalo and Buffalo loves Canadians," said Patrick Kaler, president and chief executive officer of Visit Buffalo Niagara. "That is a major artery to our tourism community."

Essential travel, including commercial traffic, is still allowed. According to Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Canada represents New York State's number one export market in a trade relationship estimated, before the onset of the pandemic, at $30 billion.

"It really does hit hardest in tourism, in retail, and in sports, because we get a lot of Canadian participation in all three of those segments,' said Partnership president and CEO Dottie Gallagher. "That is devastating at a time when those segments of our economy are already struggling."

Kaler and Gallagher were in attendance last week when legislation was introduced by State Senator Timothy Kennedy to create a new funding source for tourism through regional improvement districts which would raise dollars through a hotel surcharge and use the money to invest in boosting the industry. Kaler, at that time, noted some of the other strategies to attract visitors to Western New York, including sports tourism.

"With the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission, we're putting heads in beds throughout the county. So many of the sporting events that we do bring to our community actually take place out in the suburbs," Kaler said. "So many of those hotels rely on those hotel room nights coming from those sporting events. That also translates into those people going to restaurants, going to the Galleria, doing other things that will benefit from those overnight guests."

That, of course, will depend on further reopening of the New York State economy, with pro sports teams closed to live attendance and amateur sports still very limited. Earlier this year, while the state was still undergoing its reopening in phases, state tourism leaders spoke of encouraging New Yorkers to "staycation" with auto trips within the state.

In the meantime, while Canada is out of the equation, Gallagher says the region wouldn't consider a new long-term economic trade strategy that bypasses the international neighbor. Canada is simply too valuable to Western New York.

"This is a temporary problem. There's no question that Canada is an economic powerhouse and there is an artery that goes between Buffalo and Toronto," she said. "Toronto is an incredibly wealthy city, growing south. Canada is a part of our economic future and that border will get reopened and we can't we can't lose sight of that."

When that happens is anybody's guess. Even Gallagher admits she doesn't see the border reopening any time soon, noting that while New York has kept its COVID infection rate very low, the border includes several other states.

"It's one of the reasons why we all need to get our act together," she said.