The Canadian Traveler Landscape – Are Canadians still visiting the USA?
“Isolation breeds ignorance.” That was the response one journalist gave me, when I asked whether she thought Canadians would continue to book travel to the US. In a nutshell, the answer was yes, and that in her opinion it was more important to encourage cross-border travel now than ever before.
In the tourism industry, we have been keeping a close eye on border crossing numbers over the last few months. A recent Op-Ed piece in the Toronto Star, published in January of this year, encouraged Canadians to boycott the USA “as long as the cruelty persists.” This is scary for our industry and there can be some confusion as to how to proceed.
But in meeting with Toronto-based travel writers on a recent trip, I found that most don’t agree with the sentiments expressed in the piece. In fact, they aren’t sure that visitation will decrease at all. Most said that the benefits of travel to the US will continue to drive Canadians across the border – and that now is not the time to scale back on marketing to our neighbors in the north.
What are those benefits they speak of?
- It’s cheaper.
There was a lot of conversation around the current exchange rate, which favors American travelers right now. But Canadians still see the benefit, finding cheaper rates and pricing when they travel to the US. Where NY sees a sales tax of roughly 8%, Toronto’s tax is at nearly 13%. And in some states, like Rhode Island, there is no tax on items like clothing and footwear. Not to mention, items like gas, clothing, food and alcohol are marginally cheaper to purchase in the US.
Pro Tip: Create a travel deal or package specific to Canadian visitors. The more value they see in visiting (whether it’s a free overnight, meal, or at-par offer), the more time they’re likely to spend in your area.
- It’s different, but not too different.
Another great perk of international travel to the US is the familiarity Canadians experience while visiting. There are no language barriers (for English-speaking Canadians), similar cuisine, and a similar culture to what they experience at home. While it is always fun to go abroad and immerse yourself in a different culture, many expressed how they love the US for short trips and relaxing getaways. It’s like a home away from home – with a little less poutine.
- It’s accessible.
The other perk of traveling to the US? It’s easy to get here. Many destinations are in driving distance for Canadian visitors, which means no airline restrictions (bring the big suitcase!), less expense spent on transportation, and the simplicity of having your car. I have crossed the Buffalo/Niagara border numerous times, and have found the agents at the border to be friendly and the wait to be minimal. While some of the grander destinations (Texas, Florida, California) will likely require a plane, time spent in the air is still less than a trip abroad. Which means more vacation time, less travel time.
What’s the message we should be sending?
It was reaffirmed over and over during my trip. Canadians know the US is easy to get to, easy to navigate, and easy on their wallets. The number one message we need to reinforce right now is that they are welcome, and safe when they visit. As tourism professionals, now is the time to increase our focus on Canadian visitors. Ultimately, we have the power to move the needle, and direct travelers to places where they will feel the warm welcome a vacationer should.
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