Canadian snowbirds head south as US land borders reopen

PHOENIX – Canadians Ian and Heather Stewart are relishing the idea of ​​leaving this winter’s sub-zero temperatures behind when the United States reopens its borders to non-essential land travel next week and they launch a long-delayed commute to their home seasonal in Fort Myers, Florida.

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

Now, the Biden administration’s decision to allow vaccinated people to enter the United States by land for any reason starting November 8 is prompting many Canadians to prepare their campers and reserve their condos from favorite vacation and mobile home parks. Some are already in the United States, arriving on flights that have never stopped and only required a negative COVID-19 test.

But many waited to drive, preferring the convenience of having a vehicle to get around with rare 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 new rules were announced. Canadian users’ views of rentals in popular snowbird destinations jumped 120%.

The Stewarts will board their SUV with two dogs and a cat on November 10 for a four-day ride from Ottawa, Ont., To spend six months on the Florida Gulf Coast.

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

Like the Stewarts, many Canadian snowbirds stay in mobile home parks and luxury resorts – complete with pools, pickleballs, and sometimes golf courses – for those 55 and older. The Stewarts have owned a manufactured home in their Florida park since 2007.

Arizona is also popular for its mild winters.

The Arizona Tourist Board expects immediate economic impact in a state where Canadians and Mexicans traditionally constitute the largest number of overnight visitors, said Becky Blaine, deputy director of the office.

“Phones have been ringing since they announced the border reopening,” said Kate Ebert, manager of the Sundance 1 RV Resort at Casa Grande, midway between Phoenix and Tucson.

Renée Louzon-Benn, executive director of the Grand Casa Grande Chamber of Commerce, said the desert community felt the absence of visitors from Canada and Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Michigan last year, with a lot less people spending money locally. Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland said the city of about 62,000 people typically swells by another 25,000 each winter.

Wendy Caban of Lake Country, British Columbia, is delighted that she and her husband, Geoffrey, will soon be driving to their resort residence in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

“I can’t wait to see a lot of the friends we’ve made over the past twelve years,” said Wendy Caban. “I look forward to the heat.”

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

“I think it’s going to be crazy on November 8,” Caban said. “So we’re going to wait a few days and watch the lines and the weather.”

The Arizona Board of Tourism says nearly one million Canadian tourists spent $ 1 billion in 2019. That plunged to 257,000 Canadians who spent $ 325 million last year.

R. Glenn Williamson, Honorary Consul of Canada in Arizona and Founder and CEO of the Canada Arizona Business Council, said the tourist figures do not take into account the longer-term stays of part-time Canadian residents who spend months of in a row in homes they own in Arizona. – up to 200,000 additional people spending $ 1.5 billion more locally each year.

With some 500 Canadian companies operating in Arizona, a new wave of younger and wealthier Canadian snowbirds are working part-time in the state, buying upscale homes and playing golf, one of the most popular sports. in Canada, 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 Florida Gulf Coast in March and April.

It will be the longest stay in Florida yet for the couple, who have canceled at least five planned trips to the south during the pandemic due to restrictions and concerns over possible infection.

Many retirees are also planning to return south.

They include Wilf and Lynne Burnett, who have not hiked annually south from their hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico since the coronavirus emerged. They usually tow a 4.5 meter (15 foot) boat so they can fish and visit restaurants with docks on the bay.

Now that land border restrictions are removed, the Burnett’s have a three-month reservation at a Puerto Vallarta condo starting Jan.6.

“We will be keeping an eye on the virus and if things continue to improve, we will be fine,” said Wilf Burnett.

Those who decide to travel at the last minute will likely have a hard time booking a condo, RV park, or campground.

Amid concerns that restrictions could continue to change, some snowbirds are making reservations for earlier in the season than usual, from November to early next year, said Bruce Hoban, co-founder of the 2,000 members. Palm Springs vacation rental owners and neighbors. Hoban said peak hours for snowbirds, which make up about 15% of vacation rentals, are typically between February and April.

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

Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida and Alabama RV Parks & Campground Association, said many sites in those states were booked from January through March even before the new travel rules were announced. That’s because Americans embraced RV travel during the pandemic, filling the spots that Canadian campers would normally have.

Yet this is “wonderful news” that Canadians can come back to, Cornwell said.

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

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