Many Americans still do not come to Canada. Is the ArriveCAN app to blame?

After the pandemic, tourists returned to Niagara Falls.

But something is missing — plenty of Americans, even though Ontario’s popular tourist destination sits just across the US border.

“It’s devastating,” said Anna Pierce, Vice President of Niagara Helicopters, which offers rides over the falls.

Pierce says bookings are down 35% this summer compared to summer 2019, largely due to a lack of American tourists.

“No matter what [marketing] you’re doing in the United States, you’re not convincing these people to come,” she said.

Now that Canada has lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, travel is making a comeback. But the number of car trips Americans made to the country in the past two months was still down 45% from the same period in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodait says there is only a “very small amount of US dollars” coming into his town this summer. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

This decline is wreaking havoc on Niagara Falls.

“When you talk to businesses in town, they’ll tell you there’s a very small amount of US dollars coming in,” Mayor Jim Diodati said.

“It was hurtful, especially after two years of COVID.”

What keeps Americans away? There could be many factors, such as Canada’s vaccination mandate for foreign travelers and the lingering effects of the pandemic.

“There is certainly a relatively slow rebound from the pandemic, said Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.

“I think people have changed their spending habits. They’ve changed their holiday habits.”

A hand holds a smartphone displaying the ArriveCAN app.
Travelers must use the ArriveCAN app to submit their COVID-19 vaccination information within 72 hours of arriving in Canada. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

But the mayor, along with several business owners in Niagara Falls, told CBC News they believe the ArriveCAN app is a big deterrent to U.S. road travelers. Therefore, they are calling on the federal government to scrap the app, or at least make it optional.

“I spoke to Americans,” Diodati said. “They say, ‘Just go around Canada. It’s easier to go to Europe than to come to Canada.'”

ArriveCAN was introduced early in the pandemic as a COVID-19 safety measure. People must use it to submit their travel and vaccination information within 72 hours before entering Canada.

The app has already gotten bad press in Canada, where some travelers have complained that it’s inconvenient, has issues, and isn’t age-friendly.

Pierce says the app is also causing problems for potential tourists.

She says several US customers have contacted her company to cancel their reservations because they learned at the border they had to use ArriveCAN, were overwhelmed trying to download or complete it, and were bailed out.

“They just kind of say, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it, sorry, see you later,'” Pierce said.

Ottawa defends the application

On July 29, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced that foreign travelers who arrive at the land border without knowing the app will be granted a one-time pass to enter the country.

But Diodati says the reprieve won’t help because travelers still have to complete ArriveCAN on subsequent visits.

“It’s like putting lipstick on a pig,” he said. “Tourists are like water. They take the path of least resistance. It’s just easier not to come here, and many have already made their choice.”

WATCH | Fewer Americans travel to Canada by car:

Fewer Americans are driving to Canada, ArriveCAN is a factor

Experts say a number of factors are preventing Americans from taking road trips to Canada, including changing habits during the pandemic. But many say having to use the ArriveCAN app to provide vaccination status before crossing the border is a big deterrent.

This week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra defended ArriveCAN saying it was reducing wait times at the border.

“Since we need a vaccination certificate to enter Canada, without it the verification process would be manual,” he told a news conference in Windsor, Ont. “This tool is useful and it really improves efficiency.”

However, the Customs and Immigration Union, which represents CBSA officers, said the application can cause congestion as officers have to spend time helping struggling travelers fill it out.

What are the Americans saying?

Some Americans visiting the falls this week told CBC News they had no issues with the app.

“It was very easy to fill in. There’s nothing to do,” said Madhuri Reddy, a dual Canadian-American citizen who drove to Niagara Falls from her home just outside Boston. .

She said her Canadian parents warned her beforehand about the application requirement.

A man and a woman, both wearing sunglasses, smile at the camera.
Matt Myford of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says he and his wife, Mandy, are unlikely to visit Canada until ArriveCAN is scrapped, or at least canceled for day trippers. (Submitted by Matt Myford)

But Matt Myford, who has never been to Niagara Falls, says he had a different experience.

He and his wife, Mandy, spontaneously decided to visit Niagara Falls for a few hours while on a road trip to Buffalo, NY in June. He said they had never heard of ArriveCAN until they approached the border.

“We saw the signs on the freeway, something about Arrive — something, so we Googled it,” said Myford, who lives just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The couple downloaded the application and struggled to fill it out, as it asked for a Canadian address, which they did not have. Nevertheless, they eventually managed to complete it and lined up at the border.

But because traffic was slow and barely moving, the couple scrapped their plans. Myford says they likely won’t attempt another visit to Canada until the app is dropped, or at least canceled for day trippers.

“It left a sour taste in our mouths,” he said.

Canada’s remaining travel restrictions, including the ArriveCAN requirement, are expected to remain in place until September 30 at least.

Alghabra says it is evaluating feedback on the app, but gave no indication it might be discontinued.

“We listen and we work with our stakeholders,” he said. “I don’t have an announcement yet.”

The government is currently rolling out a new feature on ArriveCAN that allows travelers to file your customs declaration digitally. This feature is optional.

Do you have questions about this story? We answer as much as possible in the comments.

About Jonathan J. Kramer

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