Action needed to protect tourism industry

The Canadian Tourism Commission issued a research report at the end of July about the potential impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that was implemented as part of the U.S. Homeland Security legislation.
Living in Rainy River District today, we take it for granted that we can cross the Canada-U.S. border without any great hassle. Every day, people from Fort Frances cross the international bridge to take in a movie. Similarly, International Falls residents cross the border every day to enjoy our fine dining.
The majority of those who own property around our cottage on Rainy Lake are Americans who obtain year-round entry permits to travel to their cottages from U.S. marinas.
We think nothing of travelling through northern Minnesota to reach Winnipeg.
But all of that is expected to change with the passing of the legislation by the U.S. Congress that, effective in January, 2007, will require Canadians to have passports to enter the United States (as well, U.S. residents will required to carry a passport to re-enter their own country).
Today, tourists from the United States spend an estimated $288 million annually in Sunset Country. The tourism industry employs 9,440 people, with an annual payroll of $191 million.
All of that will change dramatically with the introduction of passports to travel across the border. In fact, the Canadian Tourism Commission is warning the WHTI will have a significant impact on the tourism industry in Canada.
It estimates the number of inbound trips will drop across Canada by 7.7 million. Nationally, that will result in loss of $1.7 billion to the Canadian economy.
And the number Canadians travelling to the U.S. will diminish, resulting in a loss of $785 million in revenues to that country.
The Canadian Tourism Commission’s findings showed that while 41 percent of Canadians aged 18 and over had passports, only 34 percent of U.S. residents had them.
Much of the cross-border travel is same-day visits and those travelers are least likely to have passports. The cost of a passport also was identified as barrier to coming to Canada.
In terms of real numbers, the commission estimated a decline in tourism dollars of 12.3 percent, which would result in more than 1,000 jobs being lost in Sunset Country along, with a resulting loss of $50 million in tourism revenue annually from today’s numbers.
The hardest hit province is expected to be Ontario. And the northwest region is particularly vulnerable to the WHTI.
It is time for the federal and provincial governments, area Chambers of Commerce, district communities, and tourism groups to get together to begin a process to reduce the impact of the WHTI on the tourism industry in Canada.

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