COVID travel app creating frustration on Campobello

A sign earlier this year at the Ferry Point Bridge international border crossing in St. Stephen ensure Canadians are aware they must register their travel through the ArriveCAN portal, either through the app or online, even for trips shorter than 72 hours. This includes residents of Campobello Island.

CAMPOBELLO ISLAND – New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson is renewing his call for the federal government to scrap its ArriveCan COVID-19 travel app as frustration and confusion over the app is being blamed for taking a toll on the island community’s tourism revenue.

Jon Southern, executive director superintendent of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, one of the island’s largest tourism draws, is echoing Williamson’s criticism. Southern said the park is losing about a third of its expected American visitors. He said the demographics show that 85 per cent of the visitors are American and the average age of a visitor is about 72 years old.

“They fall into that demographic that doesn’t use smartphones. About 74 per cent of 72-year-olds don’t use smartphones,” he said.

There is not much access to a computer at the park or the border and many have accidentally landed on scam websites, resulting in some losing anywhere from $60 to $120, said Southern.

After speaking to Canadian border officials, Southern said he discovered about two out of three American tourists were being sent back to fill in the details properly and half are not re-attempting to cross.

“We have the world’s only international park funded by the taxpayers of two governments and one of those nations is not able to easily visit the park,” said Southern.

He said this takes a big hit on Campobello’s economy as the tourist population consists highly of people who are retired and spend a lot on their trips to the park. Many who are turned away choose to go somewhere else in Maine.

Southern said apart from the scams and difficulties with the app, many American residents are suspicious and feel uncomfortable inputting personal information on another country’s app. He highlighted that even if one tries to fill in the details, the most difficult part is to fill in the exact time and date of when the person is crossing the border each time. They also need to input the address of the place they need to be, which many do not know.

“Who knows what the exact address is of the park? I couldn’t tell you what it is right now, I run the park,” he said.

He mentioned many have to cross the border several times just to get some basic essentials, but are frustrated with the process.

“And the border staff themselves, they told me that they are as frustrated as anybody else because they fail to see the benefit to this app,” he said. “It doesn’t achieve anything that you couldn’t achieve by handing the passport and the vaccine cards to the agent.”

Southern isn’t alone in his frustration.

“The bottom line is ArriveCan, which I have long said, should be scrapped,” said Williamson.

Williamson said the app is no longer needed and the border agents should be doing the work they did before the pandemic. He said this change should be made, especially at the Campobello border, as tourism is a major part of the island’s economy and ArriveCan is proving to be “a real deterrent.”

As of May 24, the Canadian Border Services Agency relaxed its border crossing measures for fully vaccinated Canadian citizens, permanent residents and persons registered under the Indian Act, entering Canada. CBSA spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St. Cyr explained those individuals who have not completed their ArriveCan submissions are allowed a one-time exemption. Williamson said he wants the CBSA to also provide the Americans with this exemption.

“The province has been on the right track here, limiting, I would say, rolling back the restrictions and the mandates, Ottawa has not,” he said. “The federal government is the only solution here.”

Karine Martel, a spokesperson from the CBSA, confirmed through an email that “health requirements for travellers arriving to Canada, including the submission of mandatory information in ArriveCAN, are expected to remain in effect until at least Sept. 30, 2022.”

The email further said travellers must upload their proof of vaccinations and details on the app or website within 72 hours before arriving in Canada. Failing which, foreign national travellers, including U.S. citizens, will be returned to the U.S. to complete their submission to meet the requirements for entry.

“It is the fastest, easiest and most secure way for travellers to show they meet public health requirements,” said the email.

According to Southern, Sept. 30 will be too late to act, as the tourist season will end for the year by then.

By Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter