TORONTO -- The COVID-19 pandemic has created a daunting economic situation in the Niagara Falls region, one of the biggest and most important hubs for tourism in Canada.

With few tourists and everything from casinos, to boat tours and restaurants closed, streets and attractions are deserted.

“14 million people come here every year and right now we’ve been shut right down for three months, there’s been zero dollars. Ninety-eight per cent of the industry is laid off,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.

“We’re all tentative. We’re all worried. It’s eerie what you see down here,” he added.

Diodati said weekends still bring crowds, but visitors in total have dropped by two thirds.

Jim Diodati

“It’s empty, it’s like a ghost town. There’s nobody anywhere. It’s kind of nice actually,” said Dan Kovarik who came from Barrie with his girlfriend.

“You take any picture you want. You don’t have to worry about people being around you,” said Ferdinand Codinera, a tourist from Toronto.

U.S. Border should remain closed: Niagara Falls Mayor 

Diodati said although Americans represent 25 per cent of the visitors to the city, he wants the border to stay closed until cases are under control in New York State. 

He hopes to see a gradual reopening with safety measures in place, like infrared temperature gages.

“We definitely want the Americans to come and visit us but we just want to make sure they are in a good place before they do.”

Diodati said he doesn’t support opening Niagara Falls ahead of other areas in Ontario even if case numbers are significantly lower.

“Let’s face it, the majority of the people who come to Niagara Falls come from Ontario and the majority are from the GTA. So one way or the other, we are connected so we need to all make sure we’ve got our houses in order before we encourage people to continue to travel.”

Niagara falls

Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries also hit hard

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, wineries have also been hit hard, leaving many looking for new ways to do business.

Marcel Morgenstern is the director of sales and marketing at Pondview Estate Winery.

He said after the May long weekend, they would normally be welcoming hundreds of people coming off tour buses every day, but with the crowds gone, it’s surviving by selling wine online.

“Our worry is what it’s going to look like when we open up. With social distancing, which we are all for and understand it’s the right thing to do, there are more costs involved,” he said.

He said the winery is doing everything it can to keep their business afloat, including holding an upcoming virtual concert.


Ontario government convenes advisory panels

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, the press secretary for Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the government has convened 14 advisory panels in response to COVID-19.

“To hear directly from our sectors on the challenges they face and gather insights and feedback on ideas to help their sector emerge from the COVID-19,” said press secretary Emily Hogeveen.

She said this includes the Festivals, Events and Local Community Attractions Council, the Hoteliers & Hospitality Council and the Tourism Leaders Council.

Hogeveen said the government is also aware municipal revenues are impacted.

“We have joined our municipal partners in calling on the federal government for emergency funding,” she said.