Are you headed south?

The continued sagging fortunes of the Canadian dollar have forced many travellers to change their plans, especially for a vacation in the U.S. Atlantic Canada seems to be a particularly popular destination this summer, offering a decidedly different vacation experience at Canadian prices.

This is good news for our domestic tourism industry, and it does create jobs here at home. But many of us who enjoy visits to the States are beginning to wonder: is this “trend” going to last forever? Is America simply too rich for our blood?

It may be now, but it won’t always be so, according to two tourism industry experts. Helen Marano of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Canadian Tourism Research Institute’s David Redekop predict that the drop in visits to the United States has hit bottom. A slow rise in the value of the loonie will further convince us that it is once again time to head south.

In 1998, Canadian visits to the U.S. dropped 11 per cent over the previous year, with the biggest plunge in Saskatchewan, at a precipitous 23 per cent. Over the longer term, visits were down an astounding 30 percent from 1991’s Canadian total of 19.1 million. Marano told a Toronto trism meeting last week that she expects the loonie to be worth about 70.5 cents by the end of 2003. That, combined with a Canadian economy that is continuing to strengthen, should put most of us back over the border at least once a year or so.

Here’s hoping the predictions are correct. We all like to support local and Canadian tourism industries, but we also like to have a little more choice in our vacation destinations. A dollar that is valued at little more than half of its American counterpart severely limits choices for all but the wealthy. In the meantime, American tourism operators should step up their efforts to get us down south, as Marano told the meeting.

“It behooves the states now to buoy up their efforts to woo the Canadians back to the U.S.,” she said. “We need to change that tide.”