Action needed to lure U.S. tourists

Tourism in Canada appears to be in trouble—and the sickness appears to be coming from a decline of American visitors here.
The number of U.S. visitors appears to have been declining at a steady rate since 2001. In fact, Canada now attracts 28 percent fewer U.S. visitors today than it did in 2000.
With new changes to visiting rules, American visitors now face the hurdle that if they are returning to the United States by airline or ship, they must have a passport.
Similarly, Canadian visitors traveling to the U.S. by air must have a Canadian passport. But while four in 10 Canadians have passports, only one-quarter of U.S. residents have one.
Canadian border officials will continue to accept driver’s licences and birth certificates for entry into Canada. And Canadians travelling across the border at land crossings still only require a driver’s licence and birth certificate.
But that, too, will be ending in the near future.
To attract U.S. visitors, resorts in Jamaica, Mexico, and Central America are offering to pay the fee for U.S. visitors who have acquired a passport to visit their location. It is a real inducement to encourage and maintain American clientele.
But here in Canada, we have seen hardly any of that type of promotion to lure Americans to our resorts and cities. In future years, it may be a bold move for resort operators to offer a similar rebate program to their U.S. guests coming up.
It may be expensive (a family of four gaining their passports to come to Canada would cost $400 U.S.), but it could be the best $400 spent to attract families and fill a resort.
Of course, the Canadian government hasn’t helped in the past year. Beginning on April 1, the GST rebate program to American visitors will be abolished.
When Ottawa first announced the end of the program, they proclaimed that it would save $86 million.
But an economic impact study, commissioned by Global Refund Canada, now indicates the end of that rebate program will, in fact, result in the GDP loss of $238 million—coupled with the loss of 5,700 tourism sector jobs and an additional loss of $46 million in government tax revenue.
The Canadian government simply was not doing its homework.
There are some bright spots on the horizon. Jerry Fisher, working with other regional tourist operators, is looking to create a self-funding regional tourism marketing fund to promote the area.
The Thunder Bay East tourism groups have received funding to research what attracts visitors to the Thunder Bay and North of Superior tourism areas.
In the northwest, tourism associations are seeking funding to research and discover what are the barriers to attracting tourists north of the 49th parallel. They hope to examine U.S. attractions, resorts, and facilities throughout the upper Midwest.
The passport issue, as well as the GST rebate issue, need action. The passport decision is not going to be reversed, but the GST rebate issue can be reversed as quickly as it was announced.
In the meantime, the tourism industry, working with both senior levels of government, should look at what other countries and businesses are doing to hold and grow the number of U.S. visitors.

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