Destination expected to bounce back this year
One of the prominent players in Niagara Falls’ tourism trade says 2023 will see the famed destination firmly re-establish itself in tourist travel plans after having gone through some punishing times.
Mory DiMaurizio, COO of Niagara City Cruises, says he’s confident tourists will be returning in large numbers this year after the pandemic kept them at bay for a couple of years.
“This the comeback year,” he says. “Every indication I’ve received from tour and travel operators across the world suggests a huge turnaround for Niagara. We’re seeing a large uptick in intent and consideration for visitation to Niagara Falls. Covid-19 put a stop to tourism, but 2023 will be the first year that we’ll be in the ballpark of a pre-pandemic visitation rate. Once our boats hit the water, it really builds momentum for the rest of Niagara Falls.”
The return of visitors will be welcome news for the tourism-dependent destination region, with DiMaurizio acknowledging that Covid-19 killed the tourism season in 2020 and 2021, thanks to stay-at-home orders, a closed border and severe restrictions.
“Our boats can hold hundreds of people, and, at one point, we were only allowed to operate with six guests aboard,” he reports. “Last year was the start of the recovery, but it was far from realizing our potential. By August last summer, our business was running at about 60% of normal. Critics of the controversial ArriveCan app and related border restrictions caused hundreds of thousands of Americans from crossing into Canada. It very well still could take another two years before the numbers, in all facets of our business and tourism, fully return to a pre-pandemic rate.”
Niagara Falls’ mayor has recently been vocal in calling on Ottawa to disclose what it plans to do with asylum seekers it has sent to Niagara Falls and who are now being housed in over 2,000 hotel rooms there. The mayor has raised the concern that if the federal government continues to use the rooms for asylum seekers, there will be a shortage of hotel rooms for tourists when the tourist season starts, keeping many tourists away.
But DiMaurizio says he believes rooms will be available for visitors during the busy spring and summer tourism season.
“We work closely with the tourism sector in Niagara Falls, and if there is going to be any shortage of rooms we are certain it’s going to be because people are excited to be able to once again get out and explore Ontario and enjoy the amazing attractions that we have.”
DiMaurizio says Niagara Falls’ luster has remained undiminished. “Pre-pandemic, our average attendance was 12 million visitors per year,” he reports. “Though that number fell drastically during the Covid-19 pandemic, we were seeing more locals coming to our boats. The concept of a ‘staycation’ increased, and people realized that Niagara Falls is spectacular, with so many attractions to visit. In turn, 2021 and 2022 were our best two years for domestic travel and tourism. Now, we’ll begin to creep closer back to our average visitation of 12 million people per year, because the American and International demographics are returning to Niagara Falls, in addition to the domestic travellers.”
Those who return to Niagara Falls after having been away for a couple of years will find new features, with DiMaurizio pointing out that the Niagara Parks Power Station is now open, and “has a unique feature — ‘The Tunnel, which opened in July 2022. It was originally the spillway from the power station’s operating days, a 670-metre tunnel that sits 54 metres below the main generating hall where the water that was diverted from above the Falls to generate electricity flowed back into the Niagara River. The tunnel weaves through the former hydro-electric station and leads to an outdoor viewing platform with a stunning view near the base of the Falls. The Fallsview Casino recently opened the OLG Stage. This 5,000-seat performing arts centre has and will continue to house some of the biggest names in the world.”
DiMaurizio says Niagara City Cruises’ tourism season is weather-dependent, partly dictated by how cold it was in winter and whether or not Lake Erie froze over.
“We can’t safely open until the ice is gone from the lake and the Niagara River, and this year there has been almost zero ice,” he reports. “Because of that, we’re targeting a March 16 opening — which would be the earliest we have ever opened, as much as two months ahead of some years. If we can capture the March Break, it really builds momentum for Niagara Falls.
“We aim to stay open until the last week of November.”
Meanwhile, DiMaurizio is quick to praise the Niagara Falls ‘tourism community for the way it pulled together during Covid.
“Our staff at CityCruises, and the Niagara Falls tourism community as a whole, did a stellar job navigating the constant changes in terms of restrictions and rules during the pandemic, while giving visitors a memorable travel experience,” he continues. “Looking forward, we’re optimistic for a year that will closely resemble pre-pandemic crowd levels. It’s exciting to create the amazing experiences for the millions of people who visit Niagara Falls.”