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Tourism troubles

Tourism in Canada appears to be in trouble. The sickness appears to be coming from a decline of American visitors to Canada. The number of US visitors appears to have been declining at a steady rate since 2001. In fact Canada now attracts 28% fewer US 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 US passport. Similarly Canadian visitors traveling to the US by air must have a Canadian passport. While 4 in 10 Canadians have passports only one quarter of US residents have passports. Canadian border officials will continue to accept driver’s licences and birth certificates for entry into Canada. Canadians crossing at land crossings this year still only require a driver’s licence and birth certificate. But that too will be ending in future years. To attract US visitors, resorts in Jamaica, Mexico and central America are offering to pay the fee for US visitors who have acquired a passport to visit their location. It is a real inducement to encourage and maintain American clientele. 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 US guests coming up. It may be expensive. A family of four gaining their passports to come to Canada would cost $400 US. 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 April 1st o f this year, the GST rebate program to American visitors will be abolished. When the government announced the end of the program, they proclaimed that it save $86 million. An Economic Impact study commissioned by Global Refund Canada, now indicates, that the end of the 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. Gerry 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 US attractions, resorts and facilities throughout the upper Midwest. The passport issue, and the GST rebate issue need action. The passport decision is not going to be reversed. The GST rebate issue can be reversed as quickly as it was announced. In the mean time, 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 US visitors. –Jim Cumming, Publisher