The continued closure of the United States border with Canada could start forcing snowbirds from the Great White North to make some difficult decisions about their travel plans in the coming weeks, and if the closures continue to be extended it may take some creativity for them to visit destinations like Lake Havasu City during the 2022 season.
On Monday the United States announced it extended restrictions at its land borders with both Canada and Mexico through Oct. 21, barring nonessential travel such as tourism. The Canadian government began allowing fully vaccinated Americans to cross the border heading north on Aug. 9. The border restrictions were originally put in place in March 2020 as a response to the covid-19 pandemic and have been continually extended on a monthly basis ever since.
While driving across the border is not allowed, Canadians are able to get into the United States by plane. But Rachael Atkinson with Destination Havasu said most of the Canadians that book short term rentals in Havasu traditionally drive here due to the length of their stay. So if they decide to fly this year instead, they would likely need to make some additional transportation arrangements for when they arrive.
“Once they fly here, how are they getting around for three months?” Atkinson asked. “That is the big obstacle. Otherwise I think we would see a huge increase in flying and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But they are coming here for an extended period of time. It’s not like our summer season where it is weekend or a week at a time – it’s months at a time.”
Atkinson said many of her Canadian clients had been booking for 2022 with the thought that the border would open back up by then. That is still possible, as the snowbird season won’t kick into full gear for a few more months yet. Atkinson said the majority show up in January after the holidays, and typically they return home by April in time for tax season.
If the restrictions on nonessential travel over the Canadian border are lifted at the end of October, November, or even December, that would pave the way for most of the snowbirds from Canada to resume their customary road trip to Havasu or other warm weather destinations. But those restrictions will have been in place for 19-months by the end of October, and when they will end has been anything but clear.
Atkinson said she expects that Destination Havasu will need to be in a little bit closer communication with its Canadian guests this year as they try to navigate the current travel environment. She said the business is working on drafting up a letter to all of those clients that will likely be sent out sometime next week.
“They are going to have to pull the trigger and make the decision on whether they are going to come or whether they are not, because we have to cancel reservations – which is so scary to say that,” Atkinson said. “Last year we had a lot of people not come for the same reasons, but this year we had quite a few bookings and I know other agencies do as well. The expectation was that they were going to be able to get here.”
Atkinson said the business is already getting a lot more questions than usual when booking. She said many customers are asking about what it would take to extend their stay if they decided to. She said travel insurance is also being purchased by many people booking trips so they can recoup some of their costs if the trip needs to be cancelled.
Atkinson said one of her longtime clients from Canada decided to purchase a home in Havasu over the last year, then bought a truck and shipped it to the address to ensure they could get to Havasu and have transportation during the winter. She said others may invoke similar strategies in order to secure a vehicle for their time in the U.S.
“I think there is going to be a lot of creative things going on to get cars, trucks, motorhomes and things here – there are definitely avenues that you can explore. But again, it’s costly,” she said. “In speaking to a lot of our guests, what they are trying to decide right now is, ‘Do we continue to hold out and see if we are going to be able to drive across at the last minute?’ Or ‘Do we make arrangements to rent or purchase a car?’”
With at least more options than last year, Atkinson said she expects to see more Canadians in Havasu in 2022 than were here in 2021, but if the border remains closed there will still likely be fewer than the city got used to seeing pre-pandemic.
“I think we will do better than we did last year, because there is a means to an end,” Atkinson said. “They can get here, it just has to be creatively with cars and flights. But if we don’t see that border open I still think we will be affected by it.”
Canadians have traditionally made up a large percentage of Lake Havasu City’s winter visitors, but the number of visitors from the north plummeted during the 2021 winter season. Atkinson said normally Destination Havasu’s vacation rentals are 100% booked for the winter by August, but last year they had about 15 houses with some availability.
“It wasn’t as bad as what we had projected,” Atkinson said. “We did have a couple houses that didn’t rent, but because of our construction boom we were able to book those properties – not for the same length of time but we were able to facilitate those crews when there were no hotels available. So we were able to get everything booked for a certain period of time – it just wasn’t the normal length of time.”
Atkinson said this year Destination Havasu still has about seven houses that are available during the winter.
“I do believe we will still get those rented, but I don’t think it will be for the same length of time again, and I think it will be to construction crews again because we are already getting calls,” she said.
Although snowbird season has been a little slower during the pandemic, tourism overall has increased considerably since March 2020, particularly during the summers. Lake Havasu City’s tourism-heavy economy produced a record amount of sales tax revenue during Fiscal Year 2020-21.