In a decision that seemed to surprise no one, the closure of the United States' border with Canada was extended Friday through September 21.
All non-essential travel between the nations ceased in mid March, in response to rising COVID infections. Limited traffic, including freight, may still travel back and forth. But for the Western New York economy, a continued shutdown furthers a serious blow.
"When we step back and look at the regional economies and sales tax levels and tourism and those kind of pieces, that's where it really, really hits," said Craig Turner, president of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara. "We know that those numbers are suffering, especially on the tourism side. We live in an area that's built on tourism, so you hate to see it."
A poll released in July showed a wide majority of Canadians supported keeping the border closed. Turner believes the local tourism industry could benefit from marketing "staycations," encouraging people to travel to destinations close to home. He noted Niagara Falls saw an uptick in visitors following the 9/11 attacks by people who needed only travel a few hours by car. The "staycation" strategy is one that New York State leaders are actively pursuing during the pandemic.
Turner says his institution is not prodding the governments of both nations to reopen the border but is trying to explain to the respective leaders the perspectives of people directly affected by the closure.
When the governments acted to close the border in March, they agreed to evaluate the border's status on a monthly basis. Many, including Turner, believe the border could be closed through the end of this year.
"There doesn't seem to be an appetite from Ottawa to open the border," he said. "The numbers in the US haven't provided comfort to the Canadians to be able to open that. And when you look at the economic drivers and weigh it against people's health concerns, it's a tough comparison."