The opening of the border means more potential tourists for Langley’s hotels, wineries, and other tourism destinations, but no one yet knows how big the impact will be.
“Obviously, we have missed having visitors in our community,” said Erin Kredba, executive director of Tourism Langley.
With fully-vaccinated Americans expected to be allowed to cross the border into Canada on Aug. 9, local tourism operators are preparing for the first return of U.S. visitors in 17 months.
No one knows yet whether there will be a lineup at the Aldergrove border crossing, or whether it will be just a few visitors on the first day.
“I would expect a slow build,” Kredba said.
She said the only thing local businesses have to compare the situation to is the recent easing of COVID restrictions.
“July 1, things got busier,” Kredba said. That was the date B.C. moved into step three of the provincial restart plan, allowing more inter-regional travel, dining, and social gatherings.
Hotel occupancy went up, and more people were calling Tourism Langley for advice on bookings and local events, said Kredba.
“It’s really exciting that we can start getting back to normal,” said Kristina Gervais, manager of operations for Discover Langley City.
The opportunity to host events like the City’s annual Canadian Festival of Chili and Barbecue – cancelled due to COVID last year – are important and bring in people from all over North America, said Gervais.
The opening will not be reciprocal – the United States has announced its borders will be closed to Canadian nonessential travellers until at least Aug. 21.
Colleen Clark, CEO of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce said that the key thing for business is not to go backwards. If re-opening has to slow down, that’s better than repeatedly loosening and tightening restrictions.
Despite the eagerness to welcome U.S. tourists, business advocates also said that many businesses have weathered the storm of COVID surprisingly well by relying on local tourism, and they want to keep those new customers.
Last summer, attendance at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove was up 30 per cent, and gained 10,000 new memberships. The majority of visitors came from Surrey, Vancouver, Langley, and Abbotsford.
Kredba noted that visitors from Vancouver discovered everything from wineries to golf courses in Langley as they searched for something to do during the various stages of lockdown.
Locals discovered everything from new restaurants to cycling trails to mural walks in the City. Gervais said she believes that knowledge will draw in more visitors.
“Our local residents became experts and ambassadors for their own community.”
Vista D’Oro Farms Winery owner Patrick Murphy said he welcomes American tourists – but they’ll have to make reservations, as locals have filled up many of the slots already available.
“Right now we are cruising along right about at capacity,” Murphy said.
Changes that were made to the tasting room for distancing, such as using tables and reservations, are likely to stay in place because it’s better for customers, Murphy said.
And Lower Mainland wine lovers realized they didn’t have to go to the Okanagan to visit a winery, he added.
The other big question hanging over the remainder of B.C.’s tourist season is the impact of the wildfires ravaging much of the Interior.
There are also certain restrictions due to COVID-19 – tourists are being advised to read the “Know Before You Go” page at hellobc.com/know-before-you-go.
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