As the weather gets warmer, we all slowly start to head outside and explore a little more — and with that exploration comes a boost to our local businesses.

Since North Dakota shares a border with Canada, it’s no surprise that Canadians play a big role in our state’s economy and the local sub economies in border towns and beyond.

We explored this in part one of our three-part special series, Business Along the Border.

The pandemic brought a lot of restrictions, and with that, most tourists could not travel. But now that COVID infection rates are dropping and border restrictions are being lifted, we will soon begin to see more of our neighbors to the north.

For the past few years, there has been a decrease in Canadian visitors to North Dakota.

According to Stephanie Schoenrock with Visit Minot, April saw a 40 percent drop in Canadian visitors compared to April 2019.

However, the state is expecting more Canadian visitors to come to our state over the next few months.

“We are in a lot of communications with Canadians and we’re very optimistic of what it looks like for the summer,” said Schoenrock.

But what exactly is it that makes Canadians want to come to the U.S.?

“They really like to go to stores, home-improvement stores,” said Schoenrock. “They really like to go out for dinner. They love our shopping. And they also, there’s a limit on the amount of liquor and beer they can take back, but we do find that they like the selection, the variety that they’re able to purchase here too.”

Tyler Glen is one of those tourists.

He lives in Brandon, Manitoba and he says he visited the U.S. often, before the pandemic.

“We would do about three visits a year, sometimes four,” said Glen.

Glen says he has been to many states, but North Dakota is closest to home.

“We have friends there and it’s really a nice, great weekend getaway to sneak into Minot,” Glen added.

While he’s here, he likes to shop.

“We can get in Canada probably 3/4 of the things that you get in the United States,” said Glen. “I think the big deal for us is our tax structure. We pay heavy, heavy taxes on a lot of things.”

Glen says retail in the U.S, especially in North Dakota, is a lot cheaper than buying online.

“I’m sure there’s people saying well why don’t you just buy them online.

Well, the government taxes anything over $100 that you purchase online so that would get you maybe a shirt or an outfit, or maybe a pair of shoes. It’s so much different when you can climb in your car without restriction, and just fill your car with stuff.”

He says the Canadian taxes are especially high for certain items like gasoline, alcohol and even running shoes.

“At back to school time running shoes in Canada can sometimes cost twice as much. So if we’re going to go shopping, you’ll see a lot of Canadians with three or four pairs of running shoes in their shopping cart because they’re just so much cheaper there. Groceries traditionally, I would say, are roughly ten to twenty percent cheaper as well.”

So for a Canadian family, this can make a big difference to their daily budget.

And when it comes to the malls in our state, they’re definitely feeling the impact. Mikalah Auer is the marketing director at Dakota Square Mall, and she says they are thankfully seeing an uptick in Canadian visitors to their stores — something very much needed.

“We see a lot of Canadian visitors at Dakota Square Mall especially as we’ve seen that traffic picking back up again. It really helps our stores, helps our traffic, all of that,” she added.

COVID put up a literal roadblock to Canadians, and their money stayed stuck over the border.

But now, Schoenrock says Visit Minot is using a lot of tools to get Canadians to cross the border.

“We’ve got a very loyal social following in Canada. We also have a really large email marketing list. So Canadians over the past X amount of years, that subscribed to our E-newsletters and we provide content just to Canadians,” she added.

One of the many tools they have is a way of tracking border crossings that are close to Minot to get an understanding of how many visitors are Canadian.

“We are able to compare passenger cars year over year and so that’s one way that we are able to track the amount of people coming from Canada. We always track our website traffic from Canadians as well. And then we also track GPS, phones basically, And so if people are coming from Canada, we’re able to see how many people are coming and truly, where they’re coming from.”

And for those businesses in the area, a boost in Canadian visitors is much needed after more than two years of border restrictions.

As for Glen, he plans to visit the U.S. this summer.

“Probably a lengthy visit. Likely a week to 10 days that we’ll come down over the summer and get back down there. So looking forward to that.”

And Schoenrock says that’s when we get most of our Canadian tourism.

“We absolutely see them every month of the year, but the biggest amount of traffic that we get from Canada is from late to June through August after school’s out,” she added.

The impacts of Canadian tourism go far beyond Minot.

With fewer border restrictions, all North Dakota border towns will likely have a boost in Canadian tourists this summer as well.

Next Thursday, May 19, our Business Along the Border series continues when we head to Dunseith, home of the U.S. side of the International Peace Garden, and learn about the impacts the border closure and restrictions have had there these last two years.