Border businesses say COVID-19 test requirement limits Canadian tourists

After nearly two years, communities along the border with British Columbia can now welcome fully-vaccinated or COVID-negative visitors from Canada. 

The international border opened to travelers arriving by land on Monday morning. Those who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 are being welcomed into both countries with open arms, but the reopening is not bringing in tourist dollars that many business owners hoped to see.

Communities like Blaine need those visitors from Canada to fill cash registers, but crossing into Canada requires a negative test and that can cost upwards of $200. That expense turned the border opening into a soft opening. 

"To see that excitement over just eating a couple of oysters… I hope we see more of it," said Mark Seymour, owner of Drayton Harbor Oyster Company in Blaine.

However, that comeback is so far still in the works. Downtown Blaine was not exactly hopping the same day international land crossings resumed after nearly two years of shutdowns.

"It’s going to be an international twist," said Gary Slavin, describing plans for his newest venture.

Slavin hopes to open Gateway 1890 Taphouse and Grill in December. He also operates Rustic Fork restaurant across the street. He needs Canadians flowing across the border for his investments to turn a profit, but worries the testing requirement will keep visitors away.

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"I can’t see the daytime-type of people coming for quite a while until we get rid of that testing," he said.

Crossing into Canada requires both vaccination and proof of negative testing, which can be an expensive requirement that could turn the border reopening into a non-starter for local businesses.

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene toured Blaine on Monday. She says she hopes negotiations between neighboring nations can provide more clarity around testing requirements.

"The hope is people could go down and go back and maybe they had a test before they came into the U.S. and use that same test to go back," she said.

Seymour hopes Monday’s trickle of tourists soon becomes a deluge of dollars. That sentiment is shared with county leaders who insist North Sound economies depend on Canadians. 

"I think this will at least give us hope that by next spring or summer people will have plans," said Whatcom County Executive Satpal Singh Sidhu.

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