Canadian snowbirds ready to head south as US reopens border

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PHOENIX (AP) – Canadians Ian and Heather Stewart are savoring the idea of ​​leaving sub-zero temperatures behind this winter when the United States reopens its borders to non-essential land travel next week and embarks on a delayed trip to the United States. his seasonal home in Fort Myers, Florida. .

Restrictions imposed by the two countries during the coronavirus pandemic and their own concerns prevented the retired couple and millions of other Canadians from heading south to warmer climates such as Florida, Arizona and Mexico during the winter months. from last year.

Now, the Biden administration’s decision to allow vaccinated people to land in the U.S. for any reason as of Nov. 8 causes many Canadians to pack up their campers and make reservations at their vacation apartments and parks. favorite mobiles. Some are already in the United States, arriving on flights that have never stopped and have only required a negative COVID-19 test.

But many have waited to drive, preferring the convenience of having a vehicle to get around with scarce and expensive rental cars.

Vacasa, a company that manages more than 30,000 vacation homes in North America, Belize and Costa Rica, said it saw a significant increase in traffic to its online platform after the announcement of the new rules. The opinions of Canadian users on rentals in popular destinations for snowbirds increased by 120%.

The Stewarts will board their SUV with two dogs and a cat on Nov. 10 for the four-day hike from Ottawa, Ontario, to spend six months on the Florida Gulf Coast.

“We love it there,” said Ian Stewart, 81, a retired air traffic controller from the Royal Canadian Air Force. “There’s such a nice feeling with the good weather that allows you to go out and walk and talk to your neighbors. And you don’t have to worry about slipping on the ice and breaking your bones!”

Like the Stewarts, many Canadian snowbirds are housed in mobile home parks and luxury resorts (with swimming pools, pickleball, and sometimes golf courses) for people 55 and older. The Stewarts have owned a prefabricated home in their Florida park since 2007.

Arizona is also popular for its mild winters.

The Arizona Tourist Board expects an immediate economic impact in a state where people from Canada and Mexico traditionally make up the largest number of night visitors, said Becky Blaine, the office’s deputy director.

“Phones have been ringing since they announced the border would be reopened,” said Kate Ebert, manager of the Sundance 1 RV Resort in Casa Grande, halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

Renée Louzon-Benn, executive director of the Grand Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce, said last year the desert community felt the absence of visitors from Canada and the midwestern states of the United States such as Wisconsin and Michigan, with far fewer people spending money locally. Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said the city of about 62,000 people tends to increase by 25,000 each winter.

Wendy Caban of Lake Country, British Columbia, is delighted that she and her husband, Geoffrey, will soon be able to drive to her tourist home in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

“I look forward to seeing a lot of friends we’ve made over the last twelve years,” Wendy Caban said. “I’m waiting for the heat.”

But the couple, both 73, are still thinking about when to leave.

“I think it’s going to be crazy on Nov. 8,” Caban said. “So we’ll wait a few days and control the lineups and time.”

The Arizona Tourist Board says about 1 million Canadian tourists accounted for $ 1 billion in spending in 2019. That sank to 257,000 Canadians who spent $ 325 million last year.

R. Glenn Williamson, honorary consul of Arizona of Canada and founder and CEO of the Canadian Arizona Business Council, said tourist figures do not take into account the long-term stays of part-time Canadians who spend months at a time in the houses they have. Arizona: Up to 200,000 additional people spend an additional $ 1.5 billion locally each year.

With some 500 Canadian companies operating in Arizona, a new wave of younger, wealthier Canadian snowflakes is working part-time in the state, where they buy luxury homes and play golf, among Canada’s most popular sports. said Williamson.

Barbara and Brian Fox of Toronto, both in their 60s, plan to continue working for their strategic communications company when they return to the Naples area, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in March and April.

It will be the longest stay in Florida so far for the couple, who have canceled at least five planned trips to the south over the course of the pandemic due to restrictions and concerns about a possible infection.

Many retirees also plan to return to the south.

They include Wilf and Lynne Burnett, who have not made the annual trek south from their hometown in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, since the coronavirus emerged. They usually tow a 15-foot boat so they can fish and visit restaurants with docks in the bay.

Now that land border restrictions are being removed, the Burnetts have a three-month reservation in a Puerto Vallarta apartment starting Jan. 6.

“We’ll have an eye on the virus and if things keep getting better, we’ll go,” Wilf Burnett said.

Those who decide to travel at the last minute will probably find it difficult to book an apartment, a caravan park or a campsite.

Amid concerns that restrictions may continue to change, some snowbirds are making reservations for the early season as usual, from November through early next year, said Bruce Hoban, co-founder of the 2,000 members of Palm Springs vacation rental owners and neighbors. Hoban said visitor peak hours for snowbirds, which account for about 15 percent of holiday rentals, are usually between February and April.

Those who come can also expect prices between 20% and 30% higher due to increased demand, he said.

Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida and Alabama RV Parks & Campground Association, said many places in these states were booked solid from January to March even before the new travel rules were announced. This is because Americans have accepted RV trips during the pandemic, filling places that Canadian campers would normally do.

Still, it’s “wonderful news” that Canadians can return to, Cornwell said.

“We encourage all snowbirds to plan to come to Florida and make your reservations as soon as possible,” he said.

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