NYC wooing Canadian tourists amid feared Trump slump


TORONTO – New York’s tourism industry is worried U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies are turning off Canadian visitors, and they’re heading north this week to woo Canucks and their tourism dollars.

The head of New York City’s official tourism organization, NYC & Company, minces no words in admitting he’s keen “to counter a little bit of the negative rhetoric that is coming out of Washington.”

“We recognize there are challenges at the border at the moment,” Fred Dixon said by phone from New York before the trip.

“We want to remind everyone that New York City is welcoming and that we are a diverse and safe city, a sanctuary city like Toronto, and we value the same things.”

A supposed “Trump slump” has yet to be verified by hard data, but anecdotal evidence abounds of would-be travellers vowing to avoid the U.S.

Dixon said New York’s allure plummeted after Trump unveiled a barrage of proposed anti-immigrant policies that included a ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.

And then Trump started railing against Canada in recent weeks, with attacks targeting dairy farmers, softwood lumber subsidies and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

His organization predicts New York will see 300,000 fewer foreign tourists this year, representing a 2.1 per cent decline.

That includes a projected 17,000 fewer Canadians, a roughly 1.8 per cent drop.

While that may not seem like much, Dixon fears the numbers could fall further. His forecasters have detected a drop in online searches for NYC getaways.

“It seems like this isn’t going to be a passing situation. We could be in this environment for some time.”

Whether Trump is actually keeping Canadians from heading south is hard to determine, said Allison Wallace, a spokeswoman for the Flight Centre Travel Group.

Anecdotally, she said the company has heard clients say they’ll avoid travelling to the U.S. — but their numbers aren’t showing it yet.

Wallace said its U.S. bookings are actually up from the same time last year.

Meanwhile, a Toronto-based bus tour company that gained international attention by blaming Trump for a slump in March now says business has picked up.

Al Qanun, manager and part owner of Comfort Tour, said he now expects a “strong summer and fall.”

The ups-and-downs of travel revenue are a murky business, added Wallace. The sagging loonie and ongoing hubbub about Canada’s 150th celebrations could be a factor, too.

Dixon admited it’s a “complicated picture” but said the weaker loonie and Canada’s big birthday were baked into the forecast.

But he allowed it could be more than coincidence that the expected dip is more heavily weighted in markets where the U.S. dollar is strong — Western Europe, Canada and Mexico.

Nevertheless, there is good reason to suspect Canucks may be cooling on U.S. trips.

Girl Guides of Canada announced last month it will not be taking any trips to the U.S. in light of travel restrictions, while the Toronto District School Board said it similarly would not approve any new student trips south.

Dixon will host a press conference in Toronto on Monday to tout new and coming attractions, and meet with several travel companies including Air Canada, Porter Escapes and Travel Brands on Tuesday.

The NYC Tourism Development Team is also meeting with travel companies in Quebec City and Montreal. The visits follow similar campaigns conducted in Mexico, China, Germany and the United Kingdom.