In May â€” the most recent month for which figures are available â€” same-day and overnight trips by Americans to Canada totalled just under 1.1 million, according to seasonally adjusted figures from Statistics Canada. Five years ago, the figure was more than 1.8 million. In the first four months of this year, U.S. crossings to Ontario decreased by 5.2 per cent.
At the same time, more Canadians are taking advantage of the dollarâ€™s buying power to travel to the U.S. In May, nearly 3.4 million Canadians travelled by car to the U.S., about 600,000 more than the same month five years ago.
For tourism operators, itâ€™s a double-whammy.
Leisure air travel is the only exception to the general decline in American visitors to Canada. It was up by 12 per cent in May compared to May of 2010, and has risen 3.6 per cent year to date.
Klassen says air travellers are â€œmuch more resilientâ€� than tourists who drive. They tend to be wealthier, they already have passports and, if they live some distance from the Canada-U.S. border, theyâ€™re probably not particularly aware of the exchange rate, he says.
That worked to Canadaâ€™s disadvantage when the dollar was low and this country was a low-cost destination for Americans. â€œWe had a hard time communicating that value proposition to them because they donâ€™t typically spend their days, like we do, looking and seeing what the exchange rate is,â€� Klassen says. But that same lack of awareness may be helping now.
The weak American market hasnâ€™t had much of an effect on the nationâ€™s capital, according to Ottawa Tourismâ€™s Jantine Van Kregten. â€œAbout 90 per cent of our visitors are Canadian. Only about five per cent are American.
â€œOf course we would like to see those numbers go up,â€� she adds, â€œbut itâ€™s not as dire a situation as some border communities might face.â€� Ottawa Tourism is working with the CTC and Ontario Tourism to market the capital in New York and Boston, Ottawaâ€™s two key markets in the U.S.
Based on overnight accommodation, visits to Ottawa were up marginally in May, Van Kregten says. But sheâ€™s expecting a bounce when the June numbers come in. â€œWith the royal visit, we know there will be a nice little spike around Canada Day.â€�
The CTC has largely moved out of the U.S. leisure travel market, though it remains active in the meeting and convention sector. Along with its scaled-down efforts in the U.S., it now focuses its marketing in 10 countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and the UK.
China, expected to generate 100 million internationally travellers worldwide by 2020, is Canadaâ€™s biggest emerging market, Klassen says. The CTC launched its first major advertising campaign in China in February, after Canada won coveted Approved Destination Status there a year ago.
So far, the returns are encouraging. As of May, year-over-year visits by Chinese citizens to Canada were up 18 per cent. â€œWeâ€™re very aggressively marketing in that particular market,â€� says Klassen.