Montreal business owners relieved as international tourists allowed in Canada

·3 min read
Nick Corraya says traffic has picked up enough at his downtown souvenir shop that he will probably be able to cover his costs. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Nick Corraya says traffic has picked up enough at his downtown souvenir shop that he will probably be able to cover his costs. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

Nick Corraya is seeing more tourists at his Montreal souvenir shop in recent weeks.

"Now it's getting a little better," said Corraya, whose store has survived close to four decades on St-Paul Street East.

"I can manage the cost, probably."

Starting Tuesday, things may get even better for Corraya as Canada opens its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from across the globe, letting them skip the country's 14-day quarantine requirement.

This is big news for downtown Montreal merchants who have been slowly getting their feet back on solid ground after more than a year and a half of pandemic-related closures, work-from-home orders and travel restrictions that kept crowds away from places like the Old Port.

Restaurant owner Bruno Zarka said he was delighted to see an increase in tourists walking the streets of Montreal again.

The federal government started to relax travel rules last month when it began allowing fully vaccinated Americans to enter and skip quarantine. Both Zarka and Corraya say so far visitors have mostly been people coming from Ontario or western provinces.

Zarka said it's still rare to see a tourist coming up from the U.S.

"It's still better than the start of the season," said Zarka, owner of the restaurant Le Deli du Vieux Port. "We have a lot of people who come to visit us. They take advantage of the long weekend, and in addition, we have good weather."

Hotels, airport are busier

Manuela Goya of Tourisme Montréal said European tourists will be welcome, but the industry isn't doing as bad as projected despite the lack of American visitors.

Hotel occupancy rate was projected to be in the 35 per cent range this season, but it's been up around 50 per cent — indicating the sector is doing better, Goya said.

"We are waiting to see the month of September because it is always an exceptional month in Montreal, with the colours and the return to class of Quebec students," she said.

It remains to be seen how many tourists will be pouring into the city now that international travel is allowed, but already there's been an uptick in air travellers.

In July, just over 520,000 passengers landed in Montreal, which equates to about 25 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger traffic, according to Anne-Sophie Hamel, a spokesperson for the city's international airport.

Officials are expecting the arrival numbers to climb to about 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels this month, she said.

"Obviously, we must keep in mind that overall, September is generally less busy than August at the airport and in air transport," she said in an email.

The past few months have been "extremely difficult" for Aéroports de Montréal, she said.

"Opening Canada's borders to fully vaccinated international travellers gives us hope for the future," she said.

More tourists is 'good news'

Allowing fully vaccinated international tourists is "very good news for us and for the city in general because international tourists are really the heart of the tourism industry," said Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

"We might see over the next weeks many Europeans, Asians coming with their families to make sure that they reunite," said LeBlanc.

Most non-essential foreign travellers have been barred from entering Canada since the start of the pandemic.

Opening the borders to fully vaccinated foreigners comes at a time when Canada is entering a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, with case numbers trending upward since the end of July.

Most of the country's cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.

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