A day without Canadians is looking like a real possibility this entire winter season.
With a Canada-imposed ban on most travel to the U.S., Charlotte County stands to lose 7% or about 46,000 of its visitors this season, according to data from the county.
Canadians are the No. 1 international visitor to Florida, according to VisitFlorida, the state’s tourism bureau. And Florida is the No. 2 spot in the U.S. after California for international visitors, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Canada kept a lid on its pandemic with cases peaking at just about 2,000 a day in April. The U.S., in contrast, had its biggest peak in July with 78,000 a day, according to the University of Washington. The United States has almost nine times the population of Canada, but the rates per capita are still far lower in Canada, leading its government to shut down the borders and keep them shut.
Deaths in Canada have dropped to near zero even as they fear a new wave fueled by college students. In the U.S., the two-week death count is trending slightly downward but still broke 1,000 a day as recently as Sept. 23.
Surveys done by Visit Florida in August show that only 29% of Canadian respondents wanted to travel as soon as possible. Most said they will travel when the ban is lifted.
For the many Canadians who own property in Florida, the ban has led to new anxieties. These Canadian snowbirds have been calling places like Plantation Golf and Country Club, said General Manager Richard Eyer. He estimates Canadians make up about 10% of the membership there, and it will be tough to make it through a season without them.
The club has arranged for Canadian members to pay only half their $2,000 annual dues if they are stuck in Canada this season.
“It’s going to have an impact on our economy,” Eyer said.
Rental agencies contacted in Charlotte County did not seem to have a bead on whether the Canadian blockade would affect them.
Fishermen’s Village general manager Patti Allen said the Punta Gorda mainstay is not sure whether they’ll miss out, because Canadians don’t arrive when the weather is still hot here.
“During our off-season (summer) our Canadian visitors tend to stay up north and enjoy the warmer weather that Canada has to offer — enjoying their cottages, Great Lakes and backyards,” she said.
Canada has consistently extended its border crossing bans each month as the situation here continues to show high numbers of infected people and deaths.
Canada’s rules have led to some confusion. Car travel appears to be more restricted than air travel. Drivers must show that their trip is essential. Canadian travel agencies are lobbying to include owners of U.S. real estate in that group of essential travelers. That would exclude Canadians who had planned to just rent a place for a week or two or three.
Another problem is health insurance. Canada’s national health insurance is not covering Canadians in the U.S. while a health-related travel ban is in effect. Canadians often buy special health policies when they come to the U.S., but only two of those now guarantee coverage if you get sick with COVID-19 in the U.S. And those premiums are high, Eyer said his club members have told him.
As the days grow shorter, darker and colder above the 49th parallel, businesses in Florida can only hope that Canadians will make a run for it.
“We begin to see our Canadian influx when the weather begins to turn colder up north and this typically happens in November,” Allen said. “Our hope is that the border opens up for the holidays and into full season next year. Our Canadian friends certainly help our Charlotte County tourism through all facets of the hospitality industry. A closed border in season will add to our difficult economy throughout Florida. Our hope is that our COVID numbers continue to decrease and both the president and the prime minister once again open the border up to this vast exchange of commerce.”
The question is whether with infections still running strong, the lure of the balmy breezes of Florida will prove to be the siren’s song. One manufactured home park in Charlotte County with many Canadians posted newsletters this summer advising residents of 19 cases spreading among members. There were no deaths and no further cases.
“I have a feeling that if they get to that first foot of snow, they may find a way down here,” Eyer said.