After being fenced in by some of the most stringent − and confusing – border-crossing restrictions in the Western world for more than two years, Canadians have begun their great breakout by logging in more than 3.3 million* out-of-country trips (including at least one overnight stay) in the first three months of 2022. That’s more than seven times the volume recorded for the equivalent period of the previous year. *Conference Board of Canada data.
Of that breakout, more than 1.8 million trips were to the United States (41 per cent by auto). That’s nine times the volume recorded over the previous year. What this presages, despite concerns about inflation- fueled higher costs of living (especially gas prices − see sidebar), is a strong winter season in the safe harbours which Canadian snowbirds know so well − Florida and Arizona. And let’s not forget the thousands of snowbirds − from primarily British Columbia and Alberta − who winter in California’s stunningly beautiful Coachella Valley (Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage) and the Riverside County area to the South (Hemet).
According to official Florida data, 578,000 Canadians travelled to that state in the first three months of 2022 − that’s almost as many (584,000) as visited in the entire COVID-plagued year of 2021. To put the data in better perspective, in pre-pandemic 2019, Canadians made 3.62 million visits to Florida, slightly more than in 2018, when 3.55 million visitors spent an estimated US$6.5 billion. As for Arizona, Canadians (52 per cent from B.C. and Alberta and, surprisingly, 32 per cent from Ontario) made approximately one million visits in 2019 − spending an estimated US$1 billion. According to official California numbers, Canadians made 1.7 million trips to California in 2019, spending some US$3.2 billion. We’re talking serious money here.
Interviewed for this story, Dana Young, president and CEO of VisitFlorida (the state’s lead marketing agency) told CSANews: “As Florida’s No. 1 international market, Canada is vitally important to our tourism industry. We are thrilled to see a significant rebound in Canadians coming to Florida in recent months. Our Canadian travellers will find that Florida is an extremely safe and welcoming place to visit. While tourism in other states was shut down for many months, Florida was open for business and welcoming travellers from far and wide. As a result, our restaurants, hotels and attractions led the way in safety practices and protocols that have since become the industry standard.”
Young added: “When California was preparing to reopen their theme parks, their governor sent a team to Florida to see how health measures and policies were being implemented at our parks…we are looking forward to welcoming our Canadian visitors to the Sunshine State this fall and winter.”
Getting back to normal? Or a new normal?
Fortunately, both Florida and Arizona are rebounding from the pandemic with economies relatively intact. According to a CNN-Moody’s Analytics “Back to Normal” economic survey, Arizona has returned to 97 per cent of its pre-COVID economic productivity; Florida is at 96 per cent. According to Retirement Living (a national publication that annually ranks “Best States for Retirement,” Florida retained its #1 position, while Arizona vaulted to #3 from #9 the previous year. The rankings are based on: Percentage of population over 65; cost of living; home prices/rents; low taxes; favorable political climate; access to health care; available parklands and activities − i.e., “ability to golf 365 days a year.”
In addition, recent U.S. census figures show that of the top 12 fastest-growing cities of 50,000 people or more nationally, eight are in either Arizona or Florida. Florida is also now the third most-populous state in the nation (22 million), after only California and Texas. It has eclipsed New York state which, according to census figures, is losing population (much of it, ironically, to Florida). According to the Public Policy Institute of California, that state (which has the highest overall tax rates in the country) has been losing residents to other states every year since 2001; again, Florida and Arizona are the chief beneficiaries.
The value of resistance
Both Florida and Arizona resisted the draconian economic shutdowns imposed in California and New York, yet the relative numbers of COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations were virtually the same − no better, no worse. All the while, residents of Florida and Arizona retained their personal freedoms, their judgements about when and where to use masks, to communicate and engage with friends and families, to visit with the elderly or infirm and to allow common sense to inhabit their lives.
It’s an approach that has since been validated by the World Health Organization (which initially strongly advocated strict lockdown procedures), as well as the World Tourism and Travel Council. In explaining the WHO reversal, Special Envoy on COVID-19 Dr. David Nabarro emphasized: “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus. The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources and protect your health workers who are exhausted but, by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
In addition, scientists from Johns Hopkins University, in reporting on a landmark literature and meta- analysis of the effects of worldwide economic and border lockdowns, have concluded that they reduced COVID deaths by only O.2 per cent; shelter-in-place orders reduced mortality by only 2.9 per cent, and lockdowns and school and border closures had no noticeable effect on COVID mortality.
The scientific analysis further concluded: “(the lockdowns) have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, loss of life quality, and the undermining of liberal democracy. These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are little to none.” For scientists among you − here’s the link to the JH study: A Literature Review and Meta Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality
Outlook for 2023 − and a word of caution
During the remaining summer months, much of the news coming out of the U.S. will have to do with the buildup to the “midterm” elections on November 8, 2022. This deserves a word of explanation because it can be quite baffling, and perhaps unsettling to Canadians. “Midterms” refer to the elections held every two years for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives (yup − they all have to run every two years). One-third of the 100 senators are also running for re-election (their six-year terms are staggered). The president (who is elected directly by popular vote, unlike the Parliamentary procedure in Canada) is only halfway through his four-year term and will not be up for re-election until 2024. In addition, there are thousands of other electoral offices being contested at state and local levels. The political noise can be deafening, if you let it get to you. The debates also get quite toxic and emotionally charged.
As most snowbirds know, Americans (as individuals) are generally an open, friendly people… generous and welcoming. But when it comes to politics − tread lightly. Opinions expressed even innocently or jokingly can be taken out of context. And if overheard by third parties − neighbours, friends, shoppers ahead of you in line at the supermarket − even seemingly innocent comments can ignite more than nasty looks. Unless you know with whom you’re speaking, keep your thoughts about politics to yourself.
But enjoy the good things − especially the weather. Even politicians can’t change that.
by Milan Korcok
© Copyright 2022. Milan Korcok. All rights reserved.
Medical writer and author Milan Korcok is a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen. He has been covering international health and snowbird issues for many years. He resides in Fort Lauderdale.
He can be reached at Mkorcok@aol.com