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Trump effect, low loonie not stopping Canadians from visiting U.S.

Despite a weak loonie and vows to steer clear of the United States while Donald Trump is in power, Canadians haven’t stopped taking their dollars south.

For the first time in nearly a decade, Canadian tourism spending at home declined slightly for two straight quarters, according to figures released this week by Statistics Canada. Spending decreased 0.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 after dropping 0.9 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2017. The data is adjusted seasonally.

Part of that is likely a market correction after the fervour of last summer’s Canada 150 celebrations, said Eric Desjardins, an economist with Statistics Canada, but part is tied to an increase in trips abroad — to the U.S. in particular.

“Canadians might have just decided, ‘It’s cold. Let’s head down south for a couple days.’”

Canadians heading to the U.S. overnight rose 2.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, while those taking same-day car treks jumped 6.4 per cent.

That’s not entirely surprising, according to Greg Hermus, associate director of forecasting and analysis with the Conference Board of Canada. When the Conference Board surveys Canadians about how Trump might impact their travel plans, he said, “We always have to take that with a grain of salt.”

At the end of the day, Hermus said, “Canadians still look for value for money.”

That’s why a Canadian-U.S. battle over tariffs could prove more of an incentive for Canadians to stay within their own borders than Trump’s politicking.

Still, Desjardin said these latest figures don’t spell bad news for the tourism industry.

International visitors increased tourism spending in Canada by 1.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2018, building on a 4.4 per cent increase during the last quarter of 2017. Visitors are spending more on airplanes and lodging, as well as food and drinks.

Even though tourism spending by Canadians edged down in the last two quarters, Desjardin said that’s not cause for concern. Big picture, he said, it’s “tourism as usual.”

Hermus is optimistic about this summer.

Even though there aren’t the big-scale events of Canada’s 150th, he said a recent Board’s survey found that more than 80 per cent of Canadians intend to travel. Of that group, 53 per cent said they plan to travel somewhere in Canada.

With low-cost airlines like Flair and WestJet’s new carrier taking flight, Hermus wouldn’t be surprised to see them help drive more tourism spending at home.

“It does offer a new alternative and there are some cost savings,” he said, “that could boost it a little bit more.”

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