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Spike in domestic travel to Niagara region helping tourism industry bounce back

Last Updated Jul 21, 2020 at 9:29 pm EDT

The once-bustling tourism business in Niagara region has taken a dramatic hit since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving many businesses wondering if the area will ever recover, but tourism experts say they’re optimistic it will bounce back, thanks to an uptick in domestic travellers.

Sandie Bellows, chair of the Niagara Parks Commission says she’s excited to be moving into Stage 3, after already seeing an uptick in visitors.

However, as the area is missing out on almost half of its visitors from the U.S. and international destinations, she’s also encouraging local families to consider spending their vacation time and dollars in the region.

“We make our money at Niagara Parks through our attractions, if people aren’t going to the attractions, then we are not making much money at all,” she said. “We’ve taken all kinds of health and safety precautions for people, for them to feel safe and come here.”

Meanwhile, business for Lock Street Brewing Co. is moving at a much slower speed, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the region has been in Stage 2 of reopening for about a month, Nicole Campbell, the operations manager tells CityNews business isn’t where it used to be.

While the company has focused its efforts on the production side to try and stay afloat, visitors to the brewery have now started to take advantage of patio weather, something Campbell hopes the momentum will keep up.

“We’re going to focus on outdoors,” she said. “It’s going to be a little uncomfortable for people to come out … so the outdoor space we’re going to focus on. A lot of our people are still coming from Niagara Falls, Kitchener, Windsor and Toronto.”

Some of the impacts for the region since the pandemic closed the province in March are startling.

Almost 41,000 jobs were lost in the spring and with the borders restricting travel, the region has lost 40 per cent of its visitors. They bring in 70 per cent of the region’s revenue and profits are down significantly. 

On average, tourism brings in $1.2 billion annually. Projections say that will be down 20 per cent this year.

Watch: Ontario’s tourism minister on what the government is doing to help the industry

While Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati is optimistic businesses will benefit from this next stage of reopening, he has asked casinos not to reopen this Friday.

He says with a limited number of people being able to be indoors, it just doesn’t make sense. As for when the border closures will be lifted, he is not holding his breath.

“I’d be surprised if anything happens before Labour Day or the U.S. elections,” said Mayor Diodati.

Mory DiMaurizio, Vice President and General Manager of the Hornblower, said he too is optimistic entering Stage 3, as the pandemic has made operating his business difficult to navigate, especially when he sees the American operations just on the other side, bustling.

Typically, he could service 25,000 people per day – that number is now only a few hundred.

“Well, seeing our competitor across the way operating at probably a 30 or 50 per cent capacity, it’s disappointing,” he says. “We would love to be there. But, you know, we do realize that there’s a safety factor.”

Until Friday, his boats are capped at carrying six passengers per trip, when normally, they can hold 700. This will increase to 100 people on Friday but it’s still only 15 per cent of the total capacity available on the boats.

“It’s not just us we are in this together all of Niagara as a region is experiencing a real dismal experience in terms of the numbers of tourists that are coming out.”