Montreal's tourist heart a ghost town in pandemic summer - GulfToday

Montreal's tourist heart a ghost town in pandemic summer


People take pictures in front of the Ferris Wheel in the Old-Port, Montreal, Canada.

Stripped of the crowds of visitors that usually flock to its sights, from the Grand Prix to its renowned festivals, Montreal is trying to reinvent itself during the coronavirus pandemic and salvage what is left of its summer.


The city is spending heavily and sponsoring dozens of artistic shows in an effort to lure visitors.


But despite its best efforts, the damage is all too obvious.


Over the past 40 years, Namour has greeted thousands of visitors to his gallery, including former presidents Bill Clinton of the US and Jacques Chirac of France.


But on this hot summer's day, not a single person has entered his establishment since he opened up three hours earlier.


MONTREAL2 People are seen at Mont Royal Belvedere, with downtown Montreal, Canada.


Around 11 million tourists visit the city in a normal year, 80 percent of them from outside Quebec province, spending some Can$4 billion (USD$3 billion), said Yves Lalumiere, head of the city's tourism board.


With half of Canada's 9,000 coronavirus deaths, Montreal and its surroundings have been hard hit by the pandemic.


The city has had to cancel major cultural events that in the past drew in hundreds of thousands of visitors, including its world-renowned jazz festival.


 'Little ghost town'


"A million tourists, tops" are expected this year, said Lalumiere, saying 90 percent of the revenue from that sector is at risk.


Visitors have to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Canada, so tourists coming from abroad, mostly from France and the United States, are rare this year.


MONTREAL3 Sam Nemour, owner of an Inuit art gallery, on the Place Jacques-Cartier in Old-Montreal.


This year, though, it is "like a little ghost town," she said, looking out at the restaurant's empty terrace.


The business owners are just about making ends meet with support from the state.


Even visitors from other parts of Quebec province are few and far between.


William Foster Friesen was the rare tourist in sight on a recent day, passing through for a few hours on his way from a trip to the Gaspesie region to his home of Toronto.


 Petanque in the street


The same scenes are being played out in the city center, whose 400,000 workers have been largely absent since mid-March, most of them now working from home.




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The city's beating heart endures, however, though energy has shifted to its outlying residential areas.


Dozens of miles of commercial streets have been made pedestrian-only, with water jets installed for young and old to play in, and courts set up in the street for the outdoor bowling game known as petanque.


The city is shelling out Can$400,000 in an effort to lure Montrealers back to the center, putting on 200 artistic shows in squares over the rest of the summer.


But for some, it is too little, too late. "A drop in the ocean!" said Archambault.

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