One day after new Canada-U.S. border measures were announced, the southern Alberta tourism sector is feeling excited.
Jasmine Sangria, the chief executive officer at Tourism Lethbridge, said the announcement was highly anticipated for many.
“It’s very good news, especially since our province did open up already and we have travellers coming from B.C. already,” she explained.
Starting Aug. 9, non-essential American travellers and permanent residents will be permitted to enter Canada without having to quarantine as long as they’re fully vaccinated.
As well, the country plans to open up its borders to fully-vaccinated international travellers starting on Sept. 7.
With Alberta entering the final phase of its Open for Summer plan on July 1, Sangria said things have already been turning up for businesses.
She added it’s important to still be cautious as more travel restrictions are eased, with COVID-19 infections still continuing across the world.
“We’re pleasantly surprised,” she said.
“Hopefully our tourism season will pick up for the summer and everything will be back to normal by next spring.”
Over the past year, Albertans have been encouraged to discover their own backyards. Sangria said this meant more residents were coming down from central and northern parts of the province to learn about the Lethbridge region.
While she is hopeful this will continue, the benefits of having American travellers will be tangible.
“This is a high-traffic area for U.S. travellers, especially people coming up through Montana and people continuing on especially to Alaska,” she said.
“You can stay in Lethbridge as a hub and explore all the different UNESCO sites, you can explore the city.”
The Lethbridge Lodging Association represents 13 member hotels in the city. Project Manager Shilpa Stocker said hotels have been prepared for guests throughout the pandemic, but are now gathering resources on how to direct travellers from abroad once again.
“A bit of a sigh of relief,” she said.
“It’s been a long while of that anticipation, of wanting that border to open in some way, shape or fashion.”
With the first phase of the opening fast approaching, Stocker is hoping the staggered approach will help increase comfort levels associated with travel.
“I think certainly a surge in occupancy is something that we will realize, something that we hope to realize,” she said.
“It’ll take a while for us to get back where we were, just because we do rely on events as well, we do rely on groups starting up.”
As for the Village of Coutts, mayor Jim Willett explained the small number of businesses in the border community will be glad to see customers again.
“The duty free shop will be very happy to see this because she’s had no business for 15 months,” he said.
Willett added many residents of Coutts are eager to reconnect with their border-town counterparts in Sweetgrass, Montana.
“It couldn’t happen soon enough for the people in this area, and it will mean a lot to the people who have family and friends on the other side,” he said.
The Coutts border crossing is located approximately 100 kilometres south of Lethbridge.