Because the US-Canada border reopens, Windsor wineries are reaping the advantages

An upswing in cross-border travel between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit since testing requirements were removed on April 1 is being recognized at local destinations.

Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) officials say they’re encouraged an uptick in travel to local wineries has resulted in an increase in sales of local products.

“It’s encouraging. It’s hopeful, it’s the right direction,” says TWEPI CEO, Gordon Orr. “Certainly the tunnel traffic is a good indication of the fact that more Americans are coming over here.”

Orr says lifting restrictions and allowing fully vaccinated travelers to come across the border with less hassle than before is paying dividends.

“We know that people have pent up demand and they want to come over. The ‘first wave’ so to speak of the visitation that we’re seeing right now are the Americans that actually own homes or cottages on this side of the border, and that they’re coming over to visit and that’s what our wineries are indicating ,” he says.

Cars are seen at the border crossing connecting Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, MI. (Chris Campbell/CTV News)Stephen Mitchell at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery says business is picking up along with the start of wedding season.

“We’ve started to see some people coming in for tours, tastings and a lot of reconnecting to people that they haven’t seen in a long time,” he says.

Mitchell notes the majority of American customers have cottage property nearby, expecting more people will arrive with warmer weather.

“They’re telling us that it’s been two years since they’ve been able to check on their cottage. They’ve got the leaking water heater and the furnace that doesn’t work, but they’ve been coming back in and so we started to see them as well,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell explains so far about 15 per cent of their sales this spring has been American, admitting it previously reached 40 per cent pre-pandemic in 2019.

“I think a lot of the ones that are coming back are those first few that have a connection to Windsor-Essex, and that’s why they’re here,” says Mitchell.

He adds, “I think the broader tourism that used to come to the wineries solely for tourism, they’re yet to come. We’re really seeing the front edge of this and that’s the people who are connected to Essex County.”

Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery in Amherstburg, Ont. (Chris Campbell/CTV News)Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says recent Windsor-Detroit Tunnel traffic counts show that area residents are coming back to cross-border travel after the federal government lifted pandemic testing requirements.

“We’ve seen an uptick almost fourfold between April 1 and April 12 of this year compared to the same time last year, so it’s a good sign,” Dilkens explains. “It’s a good sign that people are getting back to normal life but it’s also a good sign from a city perspective.

According to the mayor’s office, comparing April 1 through 12, the tunnel processed 25,395 vehicles in 2021. In 2022, 93,094 vehicles were processed.

“The tunnel operation is really important to the city as a whole,” says Dilkens. “We own our half of the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel and because of the success of the operation here, in normal times the tunnel pays the city a million dollar annual dividend. That’s a million dollars less that we need to collect from taxpayers to fund our operation.”

Dilkens adds, “I think the sooner we can get back to sort of normal traffic numbers, the better will be for the tunnel operation. And it’s a strong sign that people are starting to connect with their families on the other side of the border that they’re starting to attend events and starting to resume their lives.”

Orr suggests the tourists that are arriving aren’t venturing too far just yet, saying the region is well poised to welcome back American visitors.

“Incrementally, that’s where we’ll start to see some growth,” he says.

Orr says TWEPI is partnering with Destinations Ontario in May to start a US Drive Campaign to encourage tourist visits from Michigan and Ohio.

“You know tourism was hit first, hit the hardest and we knew would take the longest to recover. And every step forward in this path to reopening is encouraging,” he says.

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