For 40 years, motel owner Gordon Heading counted on American travellers for a steady stream of business each summer along Cape Breton’s scenic Cabot Trail.
But this year, Heading says his American business is down 60 per cent from what it used to be. Nearly half of the U.S. tour buses due to stop at his Cabot Trail Motel now say they can’t find enough passengers to make the journey profitable.
“We’re getting cancellation after cancellation,” the 75-year-old said by phone while manning the motel’s front desk in Baddeck, N.S.
“There’s no cancellations out of the Canadian side or the European side, but the American cancellations are killing everybody.”
Travel industry groups in the U.S. report Americans are travelling abroad this summer as much as they ever did — they just aren’t coming to Canada. A new survey of 2,230 Americans released on Friday by the U.S. Travel Industry Association reports only 9 per cent of adults plan to take so-called “staycations.”
That follows a study released earlier this summer by the American Automobile Association that reported bookings for European tours have nudged up 5 per cent this summer, while travel to Canada has cooled off.
“Canada’s not the bargain people thought it was before,” said AAA spokesman Mike Pina, citing a stronger loonie. He adds that as new passport regulations loom for Americans going to Canada, more people are getting passports and are considering travelling further afield.
“There’s more competition in a time of the year that’s important to (Canadian tourism),” Pina said.
American travel abroad has grown in leaps and bounds after being sent into a tailspin by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It went up from 56.2 million travellers in 2003 to a record-breaking 64.1 million in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Over the same period, American travel to Canada dipped by about one million visitors, outpaced by recent double-digit growth in U.S. travel to destinations like Germany, Japan, Spain and India.
The president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada says he’s not surprised.
Randy Williams says that after years of blaming external factors like terrorism fears or a weak American economy, Canadian tourism operators are realizing there are other issues deterring U.S. visitors.
“We’ve just got to pick up our game,” he said, adding that American tourists have typically been considered “low-hanging fruit” by Canadian tourism operators.
“Traditionally, the dollar was 65 cents and fuel costs were low and so it was easy and we got spoiled, for sure.”