Travel Markets Insider had an opportunity to speak with FDFA President Tania Lee and FDFA Executive Director Barbara Barrett about their efforts to promote the cause of the border duty free stores with Canada’s elected officials in Ottawa, and what they are hoping for going forward.
“May 10th was the FDFA’s Day on the Hill in Ottawa. We brought representatives from 16 different duty free stores across Canada and met with 35-40 people, including Ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs),” explained Tania Lee, who represents Bluewater Duty Free in Ontario.
“We divided up our operators and held group meetings, one-on-one meetings, and spoke with Ministers, MPs, anyone who would listen to us. And we advocated,” Lee continued.
“It is so important because we find there is such misunderstanding of how duty free works, who we are, how people cross the border and this miscommunication leads to bad decisions that take years to unravel.”
Barbara Barrett, discussing the prolonged need to provide proof of a COVID vaccine to enter the U.S., said: “I really think that they had forgotten about us. The bigger point is that this cannot happen to our borders again. We need to ensure that our border is protected so that it never closes like that again.”
Barrett pointed out that the measures at the border made no sense because people were being allowed to fly over the border- but they couldn’t drive across in their own cars.
The full opening of the border represents a major milestone for the Association and follows three years of efforts.
“This is an accumulation of everything that we have done up until now, but we are not yet done,” stressed Barrett. “We will continue our relationship with the border communities and work to make sure that they are protected against these types of measures again.”
Adds Lee: “Importantly, we realize that the cumulative effect of all of our operators across Canada – and this action of advocacy with the government – is really meaningful. When we show up here in Ottawa, and we say ‘your constituent is here from B.C. to see you,’ that MP or that Minister is going to see them. And we will continue this every year. We call it our Duty Free Day on the Hill. You see duty free people running all over Parliament Hill; we have our meetings and we are carrying branded bags, so we are visible.”
The FDFA advocates leave behind brochures explaining who the border operators are, what their current issues are and what the operators are asking for.
“We are trying to leave behind the ‘flavor’ of the duty free brand, and take that flavor out to the Hill,” said Barrett. “What we hope they remember is just ‘Keep duty free, duty free and never close the border again.’ And if that is all that they remember, that is enough.”
Even with the full opening, the challenge of recovery remains.
“Recovery is so varied across the country. Some regions are reaching for recovery faster than other regions. The more remote the store, the slower the recovery is. We had hoped for a more immediate bounce back after the ArriveCan App was dropped, but it has been slower than we had hoped. It is very difficult to say when we will see more recovery, and it is different region by region,” noted Barrett.