Despite Border Closure, Thousand Islands’ Tourism Persists

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SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) – When Corey Fram looks out of his window at work he sees both the American and Canadian flags flying high.

“It’s on my property in the United States, but we carry two flags here, a lot of places and that means something to us,” said Fram, the director of the Thousand Islands International Tourism Council.

The US-Canadian border remains closed until June 21, when it will be readdressed. Fram said the lack of communication between the two countries throughout the pandemic has really hurt border towns within the Thousand Islands.

“There just seems to be no international discussion between the United States on what easing these border restrictions are going to look like,” he said. “And until that happens, it’s just more frustration.”

Without Canadian tourism, towns along the northern border have been focusing on the tourism they do have: locals.

“A lot of the businesses here were able to adjust some of their business plan and start catering to some folks to kind of fill that void and substitute that a little bit,” said Fram.

Lauren Garlock, the Executive Director of the Alexandria Bay Chamber of Commerce, said that despite the border closure, local tourists have really supplemented her members’ commerce.

“I think what we’re finding with the border closed and the COVID restriction is that people are traveling closer to home,” she said.

The nearby border town of Clayton has experienced the same influx of “staycations” among mostly New Yorkers. Mike Hooson, the membership and market coordinator for Clayton’s Chamber of Commerce, said the trickiest part of this whole situation has been the waterways.

“I think that’s probably, you know, hands down the biggest issue that everybody’s facing right now is just how they’re limited where they can go on the St. Lawrence River,” said Hooson.

While business has persisted, that’s not to say there weren’t some struggles.

“I’m not going to say that people didn’t have a hard time–I think everyone did, especially with all the guidelines changing constantly,” said Garlock. “But I think we weathered pretty well for what it’s worth.”

One thing Fram is worried about with all of the American tourism they got is whether or not Canadians will want to return.

“If American businesses are used to marketing to new American markets and they ignore those Canadian markets, when Canadians can travel again, will they want to,” said Fram. “They haven’t been talked to in a while and nobody’s speaking to them saying, ‘look, we’re ready. When you’re ready to visit, we’re gonna be here to treat you.’”

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has been repeatedly vocal in pushing for the border to reopen, even introducing a four-step plan to safely allow recreational travel.

“Since vaccination rates have risen, overall rates are steadily falling, and New York is reopening today, based on the data, it is time to take the first steps towards reopening the Northern Border to non-essential travel,” said Schumer.

However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently alluded that Canada will have to reach 75% vaccination before he’ll consider reopening.