Canada's tourism industry is enjoying a boost in spending from foreign tourists and Canadians alike, giving businesses a reason for optimism ahead of the summer holiday season.
Spending on vacations in Canada has been on the upswing since late 2009 and climbed again in the first quarter of 2012, according to Statistics Canada. This was thanks in part to American visitors, who crossed the border despite the rising value of the Canadian dollar.
In Vancouver, the number of visitors from the U.S. has increased 3 per cent from compared with last year, said Stephen Pearce, vice-president of leisure travel and digital marketing at Tourism Vancouver. Most are travelling up the West Coast from Washington and California.
This is especially impressive given the increased security that makes crossing the border by car less enticing, Mr. Pearce said.
The price of a plane ticket in Canada was also slightly cheaper during the first few months of the year, making it more affordable to travel within the country.
In Nova Scotia, air travel to the province from the New England states is up 17 per cent in early 2012 from last year, according to data collected by Nova Scotia's Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism. Between January and March of this year, the number of tourists from New England who came by car more than doubled. This is an extra boost to the province's typically high levels of local tourists from the Atlantic provinces.
Close to half of the $1.8-billion in tourism revenue the province generates annually comes from Nova Scotia residents themselves, said Stephen Coyle, manager of research at the province's Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
More people in other parts of Canada appear to be following suit and choosing to vacation closer to home in the wake of the recession. Compared with 10 years ago, Canadians now spend almost 50 per cent more on vacations in their home country.
Weekends are consistently booked up at the Oban Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, said Allison Wiens, the hotel's senior concierge. Most of the guests are Canadians travelling from a few hours' drive away, she said, and many are booking at the last minute.
Even though guests are still booking hotel rooms, many are spending less on extras, such as spa appointments or expensive dinners, she said.
While vacation spending over all is increasing, Canadians spent less money on recreation, entertainment and food while on vacation in the first quarter, Statistics Canada data showed Thursday.
Meanwhile in Montreal, a city famous for it's summer attractions, such as the International Jazz Festival, businesses are bracing for smaller-than-usual turnout of tourists. The service industry is concerned that the protests by Quebec students will deter visitors, said Iris Unger, executive director at Youth Employment Services in Montreal.
Visitor numbers at the Grand Prix in Montreal were down, she noted, and restaurants that normally hire students to staff their busy outdoor terraces during the summer months are offering few if any jobs this year.