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Canada's operators losing share of U.S. tourist dollars.

Canada's operators losing share of U.S. tourist dollars

American and Canadian tourism officials agree that fewer U.S. tourists are visiting Ontario. They differ, however, on the reasons for the decline.

The problem is not Ontario's alone. According to officials from Tourism Canada, the situation is occurring nation-wide.

The Canadian Tourism Research Institute in Ottawa recently published statistics indicating that Canada is not keeping pace with the international growth in tourism.

Its statistics show that Canada has fallen from first to third place among destinations for American tourists.

Don Wynegar, director of the office of research for U.S. Travel and Tourism in Washington, D.C., explained that, over the past two years, American tourists have preferred Europe and Mexico to Canada.

Although he agrees that U.S. travellers have shown a preference for southern destinations over the past two years, Blair Stephens, director of research for Tourism Canada, disagrees that Canada has fallen to the third destination of choice for the American traveller.

"I am surprised to hear that. I believe we are second (to Mexico), and even that is a most recent trend," he said.

Stephens indicated that some confusion has arisen from the statistics. He said the entire European tourism market is being considered as one country, while Canada and Mexico are regarded separately.

Wynegar said American travellers are discouraged from visiting Canada because of the strong Canadian dollar and the cost of gasoline and consumer goods, coupled with an increase in domestic U.S. tourism.

Stephens disagrees that cost is a major contributing factor.

"Americans perceive Canada as offering good value for the dollar. Our research indicates that U.S. citizens have a positive view of a clean, safe and secure, but slightly more expensive (destination)," Stephens insisted.

The Canadian tourism official attributes much of the decline to the lack of major events in Canada recently which would attract tourists.

"Canada has not been offering any major events. The last ones, I think, were the Calgary Olympics and Expo '86 in Vancouver," he said.

Stephens said an increase in the number of American tourists staying in the U.S. has also been a factor.

"The Canadian government and the tourism industry in this country must involve themselves in joint promotional programs," to attract American tourists, Stephens stated.

Vernon McKinnon, executive director of the Almaquin-Nipissing Travel Association (Ontario's Near North), which represents tourist operators in the North Bay region, believes gasoline and consumer goods prices are having more than a slight effect, as indicated by Stephens.

"His (Stephens') perception is probably quite true for the greater picture (of Canada), but it is not true for Northern Ontario," said McKinnon.

McKinnon explained that, at the "grass-roots level," the staging of large events in cities such as Calgary and Vancouver has extremely little or no effect on the tourism market in Northern Ontario.

"We deal with vacations of one week or three-day packages. Big events don't impact on us a great deal."

McKinnon reported that Near North is experiencing a 16-per-cent decrease in the number of American tourists, and operators are viewing the downturn as a "pretty serious thing."

"Basically, the perception is there (in the U.S.) that Ontario, and Canada in general, is a relatively high-priced destination."

One quarter of the tourist trade in North Bay region originates from the U.S., explained McKinnon.

Mark Duggan, executive director for the Sunset Country Travel Association in Kenora, said the number of American tourists in his area has only decreased by about 10 per cent.

"It's a year people are staying home. Exchange rates, high gasoline prices and the general high cost of living in Canada combined have resulted in the decrease," he reported.

Duggan said the problem would probably be worse if it weren't for an increase in tourists from Manitoba.

Although hesitant to predict whether the trend will continue in future years, Duggan did admit, "Our marketing is going to get a lot smarter."

Meanwhile, McKinnon agrees with Stephens that the industry and government must initiate more joint promotional programs aimed at U.S. tourists.

McKinnon said that Near North, in conjunction with four other similar organizations in Northern Ontario and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, has been involved a project known as the Northern Ontario Consolidated Display.

For the past 10 years representatives of these travel associations have barnstormed sport, travel and tourism expositions in the U.S. in an attempt to generate tourism.

Other areas of Northern Ontario represented on the tour are Rainbow Country, Algoma-Kinniwabi, Sunset Country and James Bay Frontier.

Major destinations on the circuit reflect the origin of the bulk of the American tourists who vacation in Northern Ontario.

The circuit includes stops in 17 major markets, including Cincinatti and Cleveland, Ohio; Pontiac, Mich.; Kansas City, Miss.; Denver, Col.; Nashville, Tenn.; western New York State and Pennsylvania.

As a result, interest in Northern Ontario as a vacation destination is starting to be expressed from areas which are not traditionally viewed as a source of the north's tourists.

"We are even beginning to see action from West Virginia," reported McKinnon.

He said southern and southwestern Ontario were added to the display circuit a few years ago when a decline in the number of American tourists was first predicted. The result, he said, has been a buffering against the decline.

Although McKinnon anticipates the slump will continue for "at least the next three years," the Northern Ontario Consolidated Display may not continue.

McKinnon said the display depends on funding from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines for its existence and, although he is hopeful, he can't say whether or not the funding will be continued.

However, plans are still being made for the 1991 series of consolidated displays, set to take place between January and March.
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Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Words:966
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