The MV Coho arrives on Nov. 8 in Victoria from Port Angeles for the first time since the pandemic started. While crossings to the U.S. are full, far fewer people are making the trip into Canada, with strict COVID-19 testing requirements being blamed by tourism and ferry operators. (Photo courtesy of Black Ball Ferry Line)

The MV Coho arrives on Nov. 8 in Victoria from Port Angeles for the first time since the pandemic started. While crossings to the U.S. are full, far fewer people are making the trip into Canada, with strict COVID-19 testing requirements being blamed by tourism and ferry operators. (Photo courtesy of Black Ball Ferry Line)

Travel mostly a one-way-street as Victoria-Port Angeles ferry returns

COVID-19 testing requirements still a barrier for U.S. tourists, says Black Ball Ferry president

Canadians are lining up to sail from Victoria to Port Angeles with the reopening of the U.S. border, but concerns remain that traffic won’t be flowing into Canada at the same pace.

The MV Coho had a full ship for its first sailing Monday (Nov. 8) out of downtown Victoria and Black Ball Ferry Line president Ryan Burles said seven in total had been fully booked. But he projected only 10 to 20 per cent capacity at this point for sailings coming the other way, compared to the typical 30 to 40 per cent for this time of year pre-pandemic.

“It’s great to take this step forward, but with the PCR (COVID-19 testing requirement) we know we are going to be challenged,” Burles said. “We hope the PCR will be eliminated eventually, because otherwise it is going to be a tough go.”

The expense and complexity involved in getting a PCR test to satisfy Canadian entry requirements is going to limit the number of day trippers and other travellers who only want to spend a short time at their destination, while those planning on staying longer are more likely to go through the process, he said.

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With day trippers making up around half of the 160,000 foot passengers traveling the route in a normal year, Burles said their absence will be undoubtedly be felt. Destination Greater Victoria CEO Paul Nursey said beyond its effects on the ferry business, PCR testing requirements are also expected to keep tourism spending in general a largely one-way street until they are eased.

On top of this, Nursey said the region’s tourism industry has benefited from closed borders during the pandemic, becoming a popular destination for Canadians looking to explore their own country.

“Our market is going to slowly decrease here because Canadians can now travel more fully into the United States,” he said. “This is why we need easier access for Americans into Canada.”

He was confident changes will eventually come to the entry testing requirements, and hopes they will come in time for spring.

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But while testing requirements are creating a roadblock of sorts for tourism, Nursey said it is still great to have the border open and the Coho running again. He said his organization is hard at work planning its marketing campaigns for the spring tourism season to ensure they are making the best of the return of American tourists.

Burles has even more reason to be happy about the return of cross-border travel. He said it marks the first time in 20 months the ferry line has had its full roster of staff on the payroll, and the return to nearly normal operations.

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