Where have all the Canadian tourists gone?

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2015 5:48 PM
Where have all the Canadian tourists gone?

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Around this time of year, Joel and Lorraine Leydier usually make their annual drive from their home in a small town east of Toronto to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they love watching the beach from the balcony of their hotel, shopping and listening to music at The Carolina Opry.

But this year, they're staying in Canada due to the weak Canadian dollar, and other Canadians are doing the same. Visits by the United States' largest supply of international visitors are forecast to be down by 8 percent this year and another 1 percent next year. By comparison, overall international visits to the United States are expected to be up a half percent this year and up more than 2.5 percent next year.

Still, some 21.1 million Canadians are expected to come to the United States this year, making up almost 30 percent of the U.S.'s international visitors.

"We will probably hold off until the dollar straightens itself out a bit," said Joel Leydier, a retiree from Cobourg, Ontario, adding: "For sure, I'm going to miss the warm weather."

The Canadian dollar, also known as the loonie, this year has dropped to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in more than a decade. The loonie has slid 25 percent against the U.S. dollar in the past three years and now is worth, in the ballpark, of 75 cents.

After Canada, the biggest sources of international tourists in the United States are Mexico, with a forecast of 17.9 million visitors this year; the United Kingdom, 4.4 million visitors; Japan, 3.5 million visitors; and Brazil, 2.3 million visitors.

In Florida, where 4.2 million Canadians vacation annually, Canadian visits are down 1.4 percent for the first three quarters of the year, even though overall tourism is up by 5.5 percent, and Florida is on the path to break the 100 million visitors mark. Florida is the second most-popular state for Canadian visitors, trailing only New York.

Canadians have slowed down making inquiries about Brendan and Valerie Wyck's three-bedroom luxury condo in Fort Myers, which they rent out by the month at a cost of $110 a night, although inquiries from the United States and other countries haven't diminished, said Brendan Wyck, who lives in a Toronto suburb and purchased the condo four years ago.

The Wycks also take a financial hit when they have to exchange dollars to pay for their homeowners' association fees.

"It gives one pause, but because we bought with the long term in mind, we're biting the bullet and grinning and bearing it until the Canadian dollar comes back," Wyck said.

The Miami market caters to more affluent Canadians and so hasn't been as affected as other parts of the state, said Bill Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"We are attracting more of the upscale Canadian traveler," said Talbert, whose city saw Brazilians supplant Canadians four years ago as the top source of visitors. "Since half of our business is international, if any one market sneezes, it doesn't cause us pneumonia."

Melisa Yukselir had wanted to go to New York City in May, but the airfare and hotel costs would have been too expensive, around $2,500, so she ended up renting a cottage a two-hour drive north of Toronto for only $500.

"The exchange rate is making a huge difference," said the Toronto computer programmer. "I still want to go to New York, but something has to give."

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