Vast majority of travellers are from Niagara region, mobile data shows
Niagara-on-the-Lake had fewer visitors last weekend with a provincewide shutdown and rainy weather, but still saw thousands of visitors coming, many of them for non-essential trips.
The Town of NOTL reported that Bell Mobility's monitoring of incoming cellphones showed about 21,000 devices entered NOTL with 15,300 of those devices travelling to Old Town specifically.
Of the people entering NOTL, 69 per cent were coming from the Niagara region, 13 per cent from the GTA and six per cent from Hamilton.
Among those entering Old Town, 72 per cent were from Niagara, 10 per cent were from the GTA and nine per cent were from Hamilton, said chief administrative officer Marnie Cluckie during a COVID-19 update at Monday's committee of the whole meeting.
On a sunny Saturday and a rainy Sunday, town traffic counters showed 6,882 vehicles drove into Old Town, about 60 per cent less than the previous weekend.
Cluckie said as a result of a steady stream of visitors, the town has increased its COVID-19 response, including more sanitization of portable washrooms and offering disposable masks at public washroom entrances.
“With the nice weather that we've been experiencing, we've been focusing on keeping all of our outdoor amenities safe for public use for our residents,” she said.
She said the town will now have staff present in Queen's Royal Park, Simcoe Park, Virgil Sports Park and Ryerson Park to assist bylaw enforcement officers, “just by reminding the public about restrictions that are outlined in the regulations, again, like physical distancing, occupancy limits and mask use.”
Staff have been trained to act as ambassadors, “so they're maintaining a very friendly and helpful approach, enhancing our customer service, but of course making sure that public health guidance is followed so people can stay safe.”
She said the measures are expected to continue past April.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said there is little else the town can do besides try to make things as safe as possible, since people are going to keep coming.
She said it's not a matter of accommodating tourists and that the town is doing what it can to keep vacationing down, including denying many requests for short-term rental accommodations.
Short-term rentals are not allowed to operate during lockdown unless someone has a legitimate, urgent need for housing.
“So we're not making it easy for anybody that wants to come on a holiday here,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is, unless you close the Queen E, people are gonna come.”
It's a postitive that most visitors are coming from the Niagara region, but it's still frustrating to see so many people ignoring stay-at-home orders.
“I want to scream every time I see somebody walking around Queen Street without a mask and know that they're not from Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
However, she said, it's really tough for bylaw officers to actually enforce any COVID-19 laws about gathering in large groups. Bylaw officers need to get someone's identification and if they won't give it to them, they have to call the police, who don't readily respond.
“(Police are) not as responsive as they could or should be,” Disero said.
She said bylaw officers will issue fines to short-term rentals if there are licence plates from out of the province in the driveway that don't match the house.
With regards to people continuing to do activities like renting bikes in town, she said the town doesn't have the authority to ensure they're only being rented for essential reasons.
“So what the province said was that bicycle rentals are essential. And the town does not have the logistical or legal authority to say, 'You can rent to this person, but you can't rent to that person.' And that's our biggest problem.”