In Niagara Falls, Ontario, high gas prices aren’t keeping tourists away, but border confusion remains a concern

Soaring gas prices may mean some people will stay close to home this summer, but Niagara Falls, Ont., has so far seen no shortage of visitors as the tourist season resumes.

This week, travelers visiting Niagara Falls said they are finding ways to budget for the high cost of fuel when planning a getaway.

Visiting from Arizona late last week, Leepsa and Jana Mavhavika said they weren’t letting high gas prices change their plans, but had decided to use public transportation more to save money. money during their trip.

“[Gas prices are] very high, but we always wanted to visit this place,” said Leepsa. “After the pandemic, we always wanted to visit certain places because we didn’t travel much.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she added.

Marie Mbuyi was visiting Niagara Falls with her daughter last week and says after two years stuck at home, she won’t let gas prices keep her home. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

Marie Mbuyi, on her first trip out of town with her daughter, decided to take a tourist bus from Toronto to Niagara Falls. Mbuyi’s husband would drive to join them the next day, she said.

Although petrol prices are high, Mbuyi said it will not affect the way they travel and live their lives.

“We’ve been stuck inside for two years, so this summer I’m just going to make sacrifices,” Mbuyi said. “We just want to enjoy the summer this summer. So if we end up broke, that’s what it is.”

While the area so far welcomes many tourists undeterred, the mayor of Niagara Falls says the cost of travel is a concern. Gasoline prices have been climbing since December. This week, the average price of gasoline in Canada exceeded $2 per litre, a record high.

“The vast majority of people who come to Niagara Falls are by the rubber tire,” Mayor Jim Diodati said in an interview with CBC News just before the long weekend began.

“Most people drive because we’re less than a day’s drive from nearly half the population of North America. So high gas prices are a concern,” he said. declared.

In a national poll conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association in November 2021 that collected responses from 2,009 Canadians, 29% said gas prices would not affect their driving, and 36% answered “a little”.

But that was long before the record prices were reached.

Finding Silver Linings

Local operators have shown resilience in finding solutions that bring visitors back, says Niagara Falls Tourism CEO Janice Thompson.

“Our operators, they’re so tenacious, they’re so adaptable, and they’re so used to riding with the market,” Thompson said.

During the pandemic, Thompson said the region’s tourism and travel industry was struggling like any other destination in the world, but operators had made the best of it.

“We’re making the most of what’s been made available to us, in terms of when the restrictions will be lifted,” Thompson said.

“We adapted what was on offer and we were able to accommodate visitors at different levels. So Niagara Falls is always there and it will always be there for people.”

On the contrary, high gas prices could mean tourists might be inclined to stay longer to get the most out of their trip, Thompson said.

Janice Thompson, CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, says the local tourism industry has been resilient and adaptable in the face of pandemic restrictions and the face of high gas prices will be no different. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

Thompson also highlighted new transit options for travelers in the Greater Toronto Area.

“The other big ray of sunshine we’ve seen recently is that the GO train is going to come straight from Toronto to Niagara Falls,” Thompson said.

“A family of five can actually travel for $62 round trip. And that not only includes their round-trip train fare, but their [local bus shuttle service] WEGO transport in the destination,” she said.

“So there are other options – it’s not just about driving your car.”

Thompson said tourism in Niagara Falls has yet to be impacted by gas prices and they are not yet hearing from people giving up on travel plans.

US tourism still down

With borders closed during the pandemic, Niagara Falls tourism shifted its marketing strategy to focus on markets in Ontario and Quebec, Thompson said.

Travelers crossing the border from the United States are at a lower rate than in previous years, she said, as American visitors become accustomed to travel requirements to enter Canada introduced during the pandemic .

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours owner John Kinney said although pandemic restrictions have eased, the tourism industry still faces “real bottlenecks” when it comes to US visitors.

“Historically, 60% of visits to Niagara Falls come from the US rubber tire market,” Kinney said.

“There is still a lot of apprehension about long border saves and do I have the proper documentation? Will I be subject to quarantine? Those are the things we need to address and make sure the visiting public recognizes that we are open for business,” he said.

“As Americans get more used to the requirements at the border, I think people will relax more,” Thompson said.

“I think people find that once they’ve been through it they’ve gotten over it, hopefully we’ll see that recovery a bit,” she said, “but right now, we are well served by the market we have targeted.”

Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours owner John Kinney said the industry faces “real bottlenecks” when it comes to US visitors. (Steven D’Souza/CBC)

Kinney said apprehension at the border isn’t his only concern when it comes to American visitors, but the cost of gas could make or break someone’s choice to make the trip to Niagara Falls from United States.

“It’s not the 20-minute or hour-long trip I’m afraid of. It’s our markets in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Rochester, Syracuse, Boston – those one-tank markets, when it costs now some $100 to fill up,” he said.

Kinney said it’s those people who can say, “I’m going to stay a little closer to home.”

“Therein lies our fear,” he said.

Still, the mayor says the region, which relies heavily on tourism, will pull through.

“We’ve taken on so many challenges here in Niagara Falls,” Diodati said. “Since 9/11, SARS, H1N1, mad cow disease, COVID-19, currency fluctuations and now gas prices.

“It’s like one thing after another, but I really believe that won’t stop people from coming to Niagara Falls,” he said.