MONTREAL – Canadian travel to the United States hit a six-year low this winter as a weak loonie and lower airfares prompted more residents to visit other international destinations.
Last year’s decrease of Canadian travellers to the U.S. continued in the first three months of 2016 as 4.38 million Canadian residents went across the border for at least one night, down 13 per cent from the same period in 2015 and matching a low set in 2010, according to data from Statistics Canada.
While interest in the U.S. has waned, 3.8 million Canadians travelled to other international destinations, up 6.2 per cent over the previous year and 33 per cent since 2010.
The low value of the loonie has also attracted more visitors to Canada.
After holding steady for several years, American visits to Canada were up almost 20 per cent between January and March, while the number of visitors from other countries was up 10 per cent over 2015 and 26 per cent from 2010.
The strong influx of visitors provided a boon to Canadian hotels, restaurants and car rental companies, said Robert Kokonis, president of airline consulting firm AirTrav Inc.
When the Canadian dollar hovered around parity as late as 2013, U.S. travellers were pretty much no-shows in Canada, he said.
“So we’ve gotten to the point where we’re seeing Americans back in Canada, so that’s a nice reciprocal balance to the loss of Canadians not travelling across the border,” he said in an interview.
The U.S. tourism sector has responded to the currency softness by offering deals to Canadians, including accepting the loonie at par to the U.S. dollar for some expenses. Border malls are also offering discounts.
“When you have a 75-cent Canadian dollar, a lot of Canadians took a pass in 2015,” Kokonis said.
The latest results reflected a continuing trend from 2015.
Nearly 21 million Canadian residents took overnight trips into the United States in 2015. That was down 10 per cent from 2014 and was the lowest number since 2010.
The results exclude the 23.3 million Canadians who crossed the border by car for same-day trips, down 21.6 per cent from nearly 30 million a year earlier.
The Canadian dollar hit its high in 2015 on Jan. 2 at 85.62 cents US, and sunk to 71.41 cents US on Dec. 18.
Canadians travelling to other international destinations in 2015 grew about 10 per cent to reach 11.55 million.
Meanwhile, 12.5 million Americans visited Canada in 2015, the highest level since 2008. An additional 5.3 million residents of other countries also visited the country.
In addition to the impact from currency, Canadian airlines like Air Canada and WestJet, and tour operators like Sunwing, have been boosting their international capacity by adding seats to sun markets, adding additional far-flung destinations and offering new service to London Gatwick.