There’s disappointing news today for Yukoners – or any Canadians – longing to cross the U.S. border.
The American government won’t be opening the border to Canadians for at least another month. This morning’s news came despite Monday’s announcement that fully vaccinated Americans will be welcome to visit Canada starting Aug. 9 if they are fully vaccinated.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata wasn’t aware of the decision until he was informed of it by the Star this morning.
“I’m shocked,” he said.
While his residents are hungering for a chance to visit the Yukon, just as many are waiting on an influx of destination-deprived Yukoners flooding into the town.
“I guess we are going to have to wait,” Cremata said thoughtfully, although disappointment was obvious in his reply. “I’m just the mayor of a small town. I’ll let the big guys sort it out.”
He said he’s unclear as to how or whether the decision will affect Americans crossing the border into Canada.
“The articles I’m reading say the United States border will be closed until the 21st for non-essential travel,” he said.
“So my assumption is that it also applies to United States citizens. But I don’t know that for certain and I’m not exactly sure who to talk to to find out.”
In some ways, he suggested, the delay might wind up benefitting the town.
Cremata said Skagway is already grappling with the logistics of Monday’s announcement and how to acquire enough tests for his people crossing the border.
The delay will give the town time to try to sort that out, he said, but he’d still prefer circumstances were different. The campground, for one, is open and ready for Yukoners to get across the border, he noted.
Haines Mayor Doug Olerud also wasn’t aware of the announcement out of Washington. He said he wanted time to look at the details before commenting.
Currie Dixon, the leader of the Yukon Party, said at noon today the decision “didn’t make any sense.
“How does it make sense for people in Alaska to be able to drive here while Yukoners can’t drive to Alaska?” Dixon asked.
“It’s incoherent ... it flies in the face of the health data, and sets a very different standard for people flying versus driving.”
He said he “would hope the Yukon government would add its voice to the protests over the decision.”
Cabinet spokesperson Matthew Cameron said early this afternoon “it is unfortunate that border policy between Canada and U.S.A. is not aligned. We are hopeful that this discrepancy will be resolved in the coming weeks.
“Premier Silver spoke with Governor Dunleavy last week. They both want to see the border reopen in light of the strong social and economic connections between the Yukon and Alaska.”
State government officials did not respond to the Star’s request for comment on the issue by press time this afternoon.
On Monday, reacting to the news that Canada will open its borders to American tourists next month, Neil Hartling, the president of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said “the devil is going to be in the details.”
That measure will be followed by fully vaccinated international travellers in September.
That’s three weeks away for the arrivals of American tourists, and there are a lot of details to be announced, Hartling said.
One of his most prominent concerns is that the announcement hasn’t addressed travelling for chartered airplanes, which is an important component of tourism in the Yukon, particularly for big-game hunters.
He has other concerns as well, including how pre-testing for travellers will be handled.
“There’s some ragged edges to this so far,” Hartling said.
He said he believes most local operators will be more excited about the resumption of international travel.
That’s good news for autumn and winter operators, as it will bring in opportunities for aurora watching, fall sport hunters, and for snowmobiling, dog-sledding and ice-fishing.
Hartling said the announcement didn’t come soon enough to salvage the summer season for those seasonal operations.
“There’s very little season to salvage.”
He estimated – on an “anecdotal basis” – that at least 20 per cent of tourism businesses have gone under in the last 18 months due mostly to COVID-19 restrictions.
Others are “hanging by a thread,” Hartling said. Those businesses will be reliant on the government support programs to survive.
However, the re-opening of the borders will give them a chance to start planning for next year – so long as something doesn’t come along to change things, such as further outbreaks of the virus.
Hartling said he had been a bit puzzled by the lack of a reciprocal arrangement with the United States.
Then came today’s U.S. announcement – meaning no trips to Haines, Skagway or Fairbanks for Yukoners for another month or longer.
“I know the Americans have been pushing hard for a reopening of the border,” Hartling said.
Overall, he said, Ottawa’s announcement “is a big step forward for tourism, and it’s good news to be returning to be a better business environment.”