Sunday, August 20, 2006

DAY TRIPPERS LOWEST SINCE '72

Don Glynn

Niagara Gazzette

August 20, 2006


GLYNN: U.S. day-trippers to Canada reach lowest level since 1972

Our federal government seems to have a knack for clouding issues.

One of the latest examples of bureaucratic bungling is the widespread perception that Americans and Canadians need passports to cross the border.

When the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) takes effect on Jan. 1, 2008, Canadians and citizens of Bermuda will need to produce a passport when then enter the U.S.

At that same time, Americans traveling in Canada will be required to show a passport to re-enter the U.S.

Whether that makes sense is open to debate. What matters, however, is the costly toll the proposed measure has already taken. Although the enforcement is a year away, it’s virtually impossible to convince visitors

otherwise.

There is even talk the plan might be further postponed so that officials in Ottawa and Washington can better address the bi-national tourist industry concerns.

In a weird way, one might get the impression that the U.S. has finally found a scheme to keep visitors to Niagara Falls on this side of the river.

Just look at the latest Statistics Canada report, the agency that tracks foreign travel in and out of that country.

The number of American day-trippers to Canada has dropped to 1.2 million for a month, the lowest level recorded since the current reporting process was established in 1972.

“There are lots of reasons for that decline,” said John Kernahan, general manager of the Niagara Parks Commission based in Niagara Falls, Ont.

He ticked off a short list: confusion over the passport rules; high gasoline prices and the difference in the currency. With the Canadian dollar worth 89 cents (U.S.), there is less a lure for Americans to take advantage of a premium.

“And the whole world situation (e.g. threats of terrorism) makes many people feel a little less free to travel,” Kernahan added.

In the late 1990s, Americans comprised nearly 70 percent of the annual visitors to the Niagara Parks system. Today, that breakdown is closer to 50-50. Parks officials consider a 60-40 split (U.S.-Canada) as the “business as usual” level.

On a related issue, the Toronto Globe & Mail disclosed last week that after several years of failing to negotiate an agreement with China, Canada still doesn’t have the right to advertise and market itself in Eastern Asia.

Derek Galpin, managing director of the Canadian Tourism Commission, said, “We can’t do direct-consumer advertising. He compared the present system as operating with one hand tied behind his back. For the record, Niagara tourism depends heavily on the Asian market.

Apparently there are several factors for the deteriorating relations between China and the Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government didn’t help matters when - six months after taking office - it raised concerns about espionage by Chinese agents in Canada.

•••

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Beach Boys will be center stage at 1 p.m. today in Seneca Square (the former Lackey Plaza) in front of the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.

The performance is expected to draw thousands of people to the South End for the afternoon.

•••

OUT OF THE PAST: “Soldiers of the Revolution,” a special weekend feature at Old Fort Niagara, continues again today with activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The living history demonstrators will show how the British forces lived and worked inside the fort during the Revolutionary period.

•••

MILESTONE: It was 50 years ago, Aug. 20, 1956, that the New York Power Authority applied to the Federal Power Commission for a license to operate the Niagara Project. That license expires in 2007.

Contact Don Glynn

at 282-2311, Ext. 2246.

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