Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tourism numbers reflect a tough year in Niagara


Tourism numbers reflect a tough year in Niagara
Visitors from U.S. down to lowest level since 1993

Robert Lapensee
Aug 30, 2006

NIAGARA FALLS -- Tourism officials in Niagara are calling 2006 a tough year as the sun sets on the industry's busiest season.

With numerous attractions including world-class golf courses, the Journey Behind the Falls, restaurants and gift shops along more than 1,700 hectares (topping 4,000 acres) of parkland along the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake drawing millions of people each year, the Niagara Parks Commission is one of the major tourism attractors in the region. But with a forecasted 12 per cent drop in traffic in 2006, which equates to a five per cent drop in revenue, even Niagara Parks is feeling the sting from a mediocre year, said Executive Director Joel Noden.

"There's been a slight increase in Canadian tourists but there's been a real decrease in American tourists," said Noden. "Americans spend three times (in Niagara) what a Canadian would spend."

What's happening to the Niagara Parks is a trend which is occurring across the country. A Statistics Canada report released earlier this summer said Canada has fallen out of the top 10 destinations for international travelers for the first time in 12 years after ranking 11th in 2004, dropping one spot from the year before. Hong Kong squeezed Canada out after jumping to seventh place, up four spots from 2005.

The StatsCan report cites a drop-off in American visitors as the major reason why Canada was left off the list.

Patrick Gedge, CEO of the Niagara Economic Development Corporation, said it's no surprise Canada has dropped down in the rankings and it's a real concern for the Niagara area.

"Americans make up the bulk of visitors to Canada, Ontario and Niagara," said Gedge. "We've been losing our market share and others have been gaining."

Foreigners made more than 38-million trips to Canada in 2004, down slightly from 2003, the StatsCan report said. Travel from overseas soared by more than 24 per cent but American visitors dropped to its lowest level since 1993.

Americans made 34.6-million trips across the border.

It's been reported about 12-million people visit Niagara annually.

While no one really knows why Americans are staying at home, there are a number of theories. Gedge said the number of American visitors to Niagara has been in decline since SARS hit in 2002.

The StatsCan report said 2.5 per cent fewer Americans visited Canada in 2004 compared to 2003 but what really hurt the ranking was a drop in same-day visits. Gedge calls it the rubber-tire traffic, which he says is very important to border cities like Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Same-day visits fell by 8.2 per cent in 2004 and has been in decline every year since 1999, said the StatsCan report.

"Border areas are more dependent on the rubber tire traffic," said Gedge.

He said the SARS crisis was the point when tourism in Niagara turned downward, more so than in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. He said 9/11 reduced tourism and travel for a short time but it rebounded. When SARS hit, it squashed the Americans' urge to travel abroad and kept travellers closer to home, said Gedge.

"But while it started with SARS, it's not the issue anymore," said Gedge. New challenges, like the value of the Canadian dollar, the rising cost of gas and confusion over whether you need a passport to enter Canada, could potentially land another blow to the tourism industry because all are facets the tourism industry has no control over.

"It's our perfect storm," Gedge said. He said fewer Canadians could be coming to the region because the high Canadian dollar could have Canadian travellers visiting destinations out-of-country. "There is the potential this year will be marginal to last year and last year was not a good year."

Word around the Niagara Falls council horseshoe has tourism operators in the city calling 2006 mediocre at best. But while it's been tough, there is a silver lining -- new markets which are starting to open up. Noden said more travellers are visiting from overseas. Visitors from Europe, Asia and other countries from the eastern side of the world won't need passports to enter Canada or return home. The rising Canadian dollar is also not really a concern because it still beats the Euro or the British pound.

"A trend we are starting to see is people from Britain coming for shopping weekends in Toronto and Niagara," said Noden. He said those markets are big spenders since they make up only 10 per cent of Niagara Parks traffic but 33 per cent of its revenue.

"Asia and Europe are spending four times more than what the Americans are spending. We are really putting a focus one these markets. Not ignoring the U.S., but really focusing on increasing our market share."

In spite of all challenges the industry is facing, Gedge said Niagara has a wide range of experiences to offer American visitors, which he hopes keeps the region on the globetrotter's to do list. Niagara Falls is a world icon, Gedge said, and the region is becoming known as the wine capital of Canada. There's plenty of outdoor activities, a growing number of festivals and Niagara is close to major populated centres in Canada and the U.S.

"We have a richness of products that is the envy of the nation," said Gedge. "We just have to make sure we spread awareness of all that we have to offer." Gedge said NEDCOR, along with a host of partners, pool resources in order to sell Niagara to target niches in advertising and at trade and tourism shows.

And while the local tourism industry can't control the value of the dollar, prices at the pump or the confusion from the passport initiative, Gedge said there are things it can control including a level of service which keeps people coming back.

"If people have a great experience, they will go home and talk about the great four or five days in Niagara," he said. "You can't buy that type of publicity."

Sunday, August 20, 2006


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


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.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Thursday August 17
Spring street, Legion 479
Spring Street off Temperence between North and Ferry

What's on the Agenda:

-2006-2007 Budget
-Report on Negotiations
-Election of committees

-F-T JJE Maintainance
-Seasonal JJE
-Human Rights

- Updates, Updates, Updates

Be there, Our members are the Union.