Canada relaxes border rules, but not enough for White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
A relaxation of restrictions at the border between Skagway and the Yukon Territory will allow tour operators to organize cross-border excursions this summer. This is good news for many Skagway tour operators who take cruise passengers to Canada.
But Skagway’s biggest touring group, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, says its trains won’t cross the border despite relaxed testing rules and faster border processing times. On April 5, the railroad notified its partners that it would not be operating in Canada this season.
White Pass manager Tyler Rose explains that there were a number of reasons for this.
“We just couldn’t find a workable solution,” he said. “It was logistics, restrictions. Uncertainty around wait times — it was simply not possible for us to provide consistent, high-quality service without delays. And we thought that would significantly disrupt the passenger experience.
Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said his team is disappointed with White Pass’s decision.
“We basically did a series of troubleshooting on the border issues and made sure that we would have an opportunity for White Pass to come back and not have any delays. And you know, we solved those problems. So yeah, this week it was very difficult to get that news,” Pillai said.
The Yukon government and Yukon businesses are not the only ones affected. White Pass partners with several Skagway-based companies to organize combo tours that include a train ride and other excursions like kayaking, bus rides or bike rides.
Sockeye Cycle owner Dustin Craney said he booked tours based on the idea that the train would travel to Fraser BC, where his company would meet passengers for a cycling tour of the Klondike Highway. Now he has to issue about $10,000 in refunds.
“I didn’t think we had any guarantees from them. But we had definitely booked tours. And I think all the indications from the type of White Pass cruise line partners and local folks were that it looked like things were falling into place, depending on the situation at the Canadian border,” Craney said. .
But work by the Yukon government to ease border restrictions has paved the way for other Skagway-based tour operators to resume travel on the Klondike Highway to Yukon communities like Carcross. Fears over lengthy border delays have some businesses wondering whether they will be able to operate after two years of pandemic-related shutdowns.
Now some tour operators, including Chilkoot Charters and Holland America Princess, plan to resume bus tours in Canada.
Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata says he is very concerned that thousands of cruise ship passengers arriving in Skagway would end up creating bottlenecks in local establishments and a crowded town center due to border restrictions .
“As the season progresses, if more of the Yukon tour operators, the independents, can connect and offer their products to tourists, I think that will ease that bottleneck pressure and provide a really great opportunity for independent tour operators to get back on their feet financially,” Cremata said.
Pillai says one done ArriveCan App will still be required to cross the border. However, passengers who completed the application before boarding their cruise ship will not need to update it. He also says a printout of the app’s final QR code will be accepted at the Fraser border, as will a screenshot of that page saved on a smartphone.
Skagway’s cruise season begins April 26. But things should be busy when four major cruise ships arrive in town on May 17.