WINDSOR, Ontario – Cities along the U.S.-Canada border are feeling some negative trickle-down effects from Toronto's SARS (search) outbreak as Americans begin to cancel their travel plans.
The Ramada Plaza Hotel in this city just across the river from Detroit said it has had many phone calls from Americans worried since global health authorities warned people to avoid travel to Toronto (search).
"We've probably lost about $10,000 to $12,000" due to canceled bus tour groups, said general manager Neville Ira-Gould. Most of the tours were to come from the United States, he said.
Still, Ramada sales manager April Silva said most SARS-related calls are inquiries from guests who are unsure about traveling to Canada, but who are not set on avoiding the country.
"It's really on a wait and see basis right now," she said.
At Windsor's VIA Rail Canada station, counter sales agent Graham Cochran said there have been hundreds of reservation cancellations to Toronto each day, but not enough to scale back service. The system is offering special refund policies to passengers with SARS concerns. Toronto is about 200 miles from Windsor.
In Buffalo, N.Y., just 90 miles from Toronto, car traffic crossing the Peace Bridge for Easter weekend -- before a travel alert was issued for Toronto by the World Health Organization (search) -- was down 18 percent from last year, said Ron Rienas, facilities manager for the Peace Bridge Authority.
"We think that's certainly in part at least attributable to SARS, because Toronto is a pretty popular destination," Rienas said.
The bridge is the third busiest U.S.-Canada crossing and sees about 8 million vehicles per year.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, of New York, asked the federal government to send an emergency response team to train border agents how to deal with possible border-crossers with SARS. He said he wants federal agents to know how to spot symptoms and protect themselves and the country.
"We need to equip those agents with the supplies and know-how to deal with SARS," Schumer said. Medical experts should visit the area to determine if agents should wear any protective gear like gloves and masks, he said.
Jana Telfer, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the agency would review the request. She said guidance is being prepared for agents across the Ontario border.
A Buffalo-area travel agent said that since spring break in March, she is booking more trips out of the local airport than Toronto -- even though air travelers from the region can typically save hundreds of dollars by departing from the larger airport.
"I'm booking more Buffalo departures than Toronto departures these days," said Sandy Lavis.
Meanwhile, Canadian citizen Mila Cobanob wasn't deterred by fear of SARS. The 19-year-old, who lives in Sterling Heights, Mich., traveled to Toronto last weekend and planned to go again to visit her brother, Milan, at the end of next week.
"When you see people walking around in masks, it can be weird," Cobanob said. "But it's not really scary there, I think it's just really hyped."