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Is Canada the Boring Girl Next Door?

Gary Lee

Travel from the United States to Canada fell by 8.1 percent in the first part of this year, compared with 2006. The 2006 rates were also down from 2005.

Such figures miff fans of Canada to no end. Our neighbor to the north has some stunning attractions to offer visitors. Among them: one of the best theater scenes in North America in Toronto, a real food lover's dream in Montreal and one of the world's most aesthetically splendid urban areas anywhere in Vancouver. But wait, there's much more: pristine parks, majestic mountains and pretty easy access from the Eastern seaboard.

So why the downturn in visitors?

"For years we have made the point that we're pristine, clean and friendly," Monica Campbell-Hoppe, director of media relations for the Canadian Tourism Commission, told me in an interview. "But I think travelers think of us as lacking adventure, excitement and sexiness." In other words, the land of the maple leaf, in the view of some, is just one big snooze.

Another possible reason for the decline: the crumbling strength of the U.S. dollar in Canada. Four years ago, you could snag one Canadian dollar for around 80 cents. At last glance, the rate was 96 U.S. cents for a Canadian dollar, and inching closer to par. To be sure, the greenback has also lost ground to the euro, pound and other currencies.

Passport issues may also have deterred Americans from even thinking about Canada in the past year. Lack of clarity over whether or when a passport is needed to get across the border may have turned off many potential visitors, Campbell-Hoppe said.

But the biggest reason, she concluded: "We need to project ourselves as more exciting."

Or are there other reasons why Canada seems to be falling out of favor with U.S. travelers?

By Gary Lee |  September 13, 2007; 7:02 AM ET  | Category:  Gary Lee
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A lot of people think warm and sunny for vacations -- Florida, the Caribbean, Arizona etc. Canada is wonderful and I've always had a good time there, but it doesn't exactly have swim suit weather. I'm sure there's a way for clever marketers to overcome this.

Posted by: Folger | September 13, 2007 8:22 AM

I'm surprised to hear that, because my friends and I always have the most fun on our trips to Canada. The natural landscapes are stunning, and the nightlife is a lot more interesting and fun, with a lot less pretension, attitude, and rope-line-ness than in the US.

Here's a list: Quebec City during Winter Carnival (or any other time); the Maritimes in summer (especially Cape Breton, which is unmissable); Vancouver, ideally in summer but good at other times too; or Toronto or Montreal at any time of year; are all worth your while.

Posted by: csdiego | September 13, 2007 9:02 AM

I love Canada! I've traveled around the world and spent time in many big cities and Toronto is one of my favorites. It's artsy, very international and has great public transportation. Plus, the people are so much more friendly and helpful in all of Canada than in many places here in the States. Almost everywhere I've been in Canada has been clean and neat. Vancouver and Vancouver Island are definitely worth a visit, too. Can't wait to visit Montreal someday soon. Americans are really missing out if they skip Canada -- you can even drive there if you want!

Posted by: Canada lover | September 13, 2007 9:26 AM

News to me - I love Canada. Gorgeous, the people are friendly, and lots to do.

I think it's a combination of the passport thing and currency exchange, myself. Because if you want to take a vacation in a big North American continent, now it costs pretty much the same to do so in the US.

Let the Passport Office catch up and next year might be better. Might not bounce back completely, but better.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | September 13, 2007 9:48 AM

I love visiting Canada...recent trips include Nova Scotia (Halifax is a marvelous city), gorgeous Prince Edward Island, and the Stratford Festival in Ontario. The exchange rate isn't what it was, but Canada is a wonderful country to visit, again and again. If you've never been, or it's been a long time, give it try!

Posted by: Jamie | September 13, 2007 9:50 AM

Funny timing - I'm leaving for Montreal today. Main attraction was a cheap ticket for a Rush concert, but I'm looking forward to some great dining.

Posted by: Hemisphire | September 13, 2007 10:08 AM

Like everyone else I enjoy Canada - I was in Vancouver for the first time this year and had an amazing time, and have enjoyed previous trips throughout Quebec as well.

In addition to the exchange rate (I remember the days when Canada was America 1/2 off), I think the other problem is that airfares tend to be more expensive. For instance, it's hard to find round trips to Vancouver from DC for less than $450, while you can find $250 RT's to San Francisco pretty frequently.

Posted by: Van is Wonderful | September 13, 2007 10:41 AM

what about that border crossing? I saved money earlier this summer by flying into Buffalo and driving across the border, but spent close to 3 hours total in wait time.

Posted by: SSMD | September 13, 2007 11:37 AM

We used to go into Canada quite often when we visited our in-laws who lived near the border. However, with the new passport laws (I still don't have one because truthfully I don't intend to fly overseas) we don't go into Canada. It's just too much of a hassle.

Posted by: BAHB | September 13, 2007 1:45 PM

G. Lee

Boring Girl Next Door? So is Jessica Biel. Would you turn down a date with her?
Having spent a lot of time in Vancouver, I think Canada's unofficial slogan should be "Canadians: Much Better Looking than you think."

Seriously, the dollar issue is big (it was like 63 cents to a dollar six years ago).
Also border crossings can be a pain and lengthy (and if you are unlucky to be pulled out by customs at the airport, that also can take several hours)

I think they need to emphasize moer that when the heat becomes ghastly here, Vancouver is a sunny, dry 76 degrees.

Posted by: anon | September 13, 2007 1:58 PM

I think the passport issue and the currency are the main reasons that travel has fallen off. I've always had a good time in Canada, and I can't imagine anyone leaving with a negative impression of the country.

I think that another problem is that Canada is kind of in a hard to classify zone in that it feels a lot like the US, so people don't really consider Canada when looking to travel to another country, and when taking a short domestic trip, they tend to think of the US and exclude Canada then as well.

Posted by: ShawnDC | September 13, 2007 2:08 PM

Count me among the Canadaphiles! This blkog would be remiss without big props to the Canadian Rockies. This mountain chain is jaw-dropping gorgeous! IMHO, The Canadian Rockies have it all over the American Rockies.

Posted by: minniwanca | September 13, 2007 2:16 PM

My husband's family is from New Brunswick, so we go every 4-5 years. The last visit was in 2005 and we were stunned by how much more it cost us. It wasn't just the exchange rate. The actual prices were way higher. The only reasonably priced inn was a lovely place near the top of Cape Breton (way off season). I recall paying something like $130 canadian for a dingy comfort inn room in the middle of nowhere. We didn't want to look at the credit card bills after we returned! And now it's even worse so we're bracing ourselves for next fall when we'll make the trip again.

Posted by: MaryB | September 13, 2007 3:23 PM

I go to Canada several times a year (of course, I live next door in Michigan). Besides the wonderful theatre in Toronto, there is also world class theatre in Niagra on the Lake (Shaw Festival) and Stratford, Ontario (mostly Shakespeare). I do miss the glory days of the dollar, I shopped a lot more and brought more stuff back home then. And, the casino in Windsor is totally smoke-free, unlike the casinos in Detroit, so I cross the border for that reason, too.

Posted by: CJB | September 14, 2007 4:23 PM

I honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies last year- absolutely amazing. I am nuts about Canada, but admit since it's no longer a bargain it's no longer the first place I think about vacationing.

Posted by: AJ | September 14, 2007 6:25 PM

I think everyone else has hit it. The passport issue is one. The dollar is a huge one. I remember the exchange rate being US$1 to C$1.50 just a few years ago. Things tend to be a bit more expensive up there to begin with, especially when you add in the 15% VAT. But airfares have skyrocketed. I used to pay about $170 round trip to Toronto. Now it's close to or over $300. And while Toronto is full of hotels, the decent ones can also get a bit pricey.

And they clearly have an image problem. As noted above people think Canada is always cold. While it does get cold during the winter, the summer weather is pretty much the same as it is here. And places like Vancouver can be very temperate even in winter.

Plus it has become much easier to reach other places in the world that used to be too far away, take too long to get to, or were prohibitively expensive. And you have the opening up of Eastern Europe to tourism and also Latin America and to an extent Asia. There's a lot of competition out there. I wish I would win the lotto so I could go everywhere. But I think most people like to see new places. So Canada may have an issue of "been there, done that" to deal with too.

Posted by: Glenn | September 16, 2007 6:49 PM

The exchange rate and the increasing costs of flights to Canada are probably the main reason for the drop off. To compensate the country needs to highlight some of the less known but equally worthwhile destinations in the country. Some of my favorites are the lake country north of Toronto, the Thousand Islands region on the northern border of upstate New York, and interior British Columbia.

Posted by: Patrick | September 19, 2007 11:19 AM

1) Canada is expensive to fly into. I paid over 450usd to fly from DCA to Montreal last year! Similarly, I could not find easy/inexpensive flights for places like Nova Scotia.

2) Canada is generally more expensive than the US, especially for incidentals -- they have taxes on goods we are not used to paying. A little box of band-aids in the pharmacy cost me nearly five bucks. With little difference in the dollar now, these things really add up in a 5-day trip. I decided to eat only one real meal a day when I saw how expensive everthing was-- and to snack from the grocery story the rest of the day.

3) I had to be at the airport in Montreal several hours in advance to fly back to DCA. Security officials went thru every piece of carry-on luggage of every single passenger (you get called in one at a time from a line). This, for a one-hour flight!

4) Frankly, it was nearly as expensive as Europe overall, with the same flying hassles, so I'll just go to Europe.

Posted by: Kensington | September 19, 2007 11:52 AM

Cost of fuel keeps my family, and many others closer to home in Michigan.

The lure of a cheap dollar is a thing of the past. By the end of October, the $C will probably be at a premium compared to the $US.

I get anxiety attacks about waiting through customs going back into the U.S.

Posted by: DaleGRMI | September 19, 2007 3:28 PM

My sister-in-law has a cottage at Long Point, ON which is on Lake Erie and is further south than Detroit. It's an 11-hour drive from Louisville, KY which is much closer than south Florida for vacations. We've been going there for decades. Long Point is about 2 hours southwest of Toronto.

The August days are often in the 80s but the humidity and night temps are usually more comfortable than in Kentucky. Being so close to Toronto is wonderful. I get bored after about 4 days on a beach, so we usually spend one or two nights in the city. Believe me, the theatres, restaurants, clubs, museums, parks, lakefront, shops and other urban amenities of Toronto are well worth exploring.

We have made a number of Canadian friends who visit us in turn and we value their friendship highly. Over the years, we've come to consider each other extended family. In general, I think Canadians may be a bit more formal and polite, but I've never worried for my safety and I have never been rudely treated in Canada.

We have passports and have been showing them at the border even if they're not required, but we travel to other places outside the U.S. anyway, so it's no big deal. The thing we notice most is the weakness of the dollar. We used to plan on gaining about 30% in the exchange, but that's not been the case for over a year now.

We've also visited parts of British Columbia which is magnificent. In the future we hope to visit the Maritimes, Quebec, and Banff. Don't ignore Canada. We've even considered moving there!

Posted by: Terry | September 19, 2007 5:35 PM

Just returned from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Boring? Depends what one is looking for. The scenery is spectacular. The people are wonderful! They don't stand around with their hand out. Everyplace is clean and well-taken care of. (Can't say that about our neighbors to the south.) If it's the airfares, try a rental car and drive over the border.

Posted by: Florida | September 19, 2007 7:34 PM

Recently Canada eliminated the program of refunding to foreign vistors the sales tax that pays for their helath care. the tax is quite high and is addes to hotel bills as well as other things. My wife and I would always apply for and get refunded the tax on our hotel bills. No more.

Posted by: Joe | September 20, 2007 8:32 PM

Boring? Huh? Canada is wonderful. We've been going to Victoria at least twice annually for years, and usually visit the Rockies--in both Alberta and B.C.--once a year.

Canada has the greatest parks, both provincial and national, the people are NICE, the cities are great and the scenery is spectacular: the Canadian Rockies are right up there with the Alps. Oh, and some terrific museums and historic sites, also good bookstores. The Royal BC Museum is amazing. The exchange rate won't keep us at home. We're already booked to spend a week there in December, although I'm sure we will be watching our spending more carefully than we did during our May visit.

Frankly, I think Canada still is a better bargain than most of Europe right now.

Posted by: oregon | September 21, 2007 1:17 AM

I am so surprised that travel is down. Canada is one of my favorite places to visit. Quebec City is so beautiful - you feel as if you are in Europe. Last year I went to Newfoundland. Most gracious people I have ever met. This year I combined a Montana trip with one into Alberta. So much Native American history there and history does not know borders. Hope the travel picks up.

Posted by: k. galligan | September 21, 2007 10:20 AM

Americans who appreciated value came to Canada because the exchange rate was ridiculous. Buy two nights, get one free,
(buy two of anything, get one free).
Just five years ago, our dollar would only buy 62 cents.

Most Canadians had faith that, sooner or later, we would get good value for our dollar, but it is shocking to see how quickly that has happened.

There are at least two factors that has seen the currencies reverse so dramatically.

Americans are buying so much of Canadian oil that the economics have effected the value of both currencies.

We won't talk about international policies.

The another factor may be the war.

The last time the Canadian dollar was near par was during the Vietnam War.

so now we know the answer to that age old question...
War, what is it good for?

The new question is, will Canadians visit the USA to take advantage of our strong dollar?

the answer is yes!!!

Dispite the knowlegde that Amerivcans like to shoot Americans, we find most Americans are friendly to Canadian visitors.

The shoppping is good.

and the weather better, at least in January.

cheers, and thanks

Posted by: Bob Tudor | September 22, 2007 8:56 AM

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